This year I took most of August off work and spent it with my family in Wales, Wiltshire and the Western Isles – it was a busy time but my camera was never far away.
My Morning Classroom
I set up this parachute at the BCUK Bushmoot as an extra classroom – it was located in front of my tipi and as I got up one morning I was presented with this wonderful view.
A Happy Cap’n
The Naughty Corner at the Bushmoot has two two things that never change – they are Cap’n Badger and his Skull. The skull is always being passed around the fire and it always has Kraken rum inside it 🙂
You have my thanks Cap’n for maintaining this tradition.
Demon Fire Face
Never one to let a good fire go unnoticed the pizza oven at the Bushmoot gave me this cracking Demon Fire Face this year – you can even see its right arm.
A Bushmoot Wedding
Last year it was the engagement and this year it was the wedding. I took a lot of pictures for Phil and Magda but this one ticked all the boxes for me:
I love a good wedding (do not get invited to many these days – must be an age thing)
We were with the Bushmoot family
I do love a good Log Rocket Stove 🙂
The Coastal Survival Crew
In the middle of August I spent five days with my lad Finlay at the Wilderness Gathering working with my friend Fraser and the Coastal Survival Crew. As a land lubber I have no idea why they keep asking me back each year but I am not going to say no – they are a great crew to work with.
The latter half of August found me with the family up on the Isle of Lewis – I ran free on the beaches there as a kid and it is great to see my kids and their cousins doing the same.
I do not get to Lewis that often and rarely when all my brothers and sister are there at the same time – this year they were all there and I made sure I got this picture (thank you Alison for taking it) – as rare as ‘Rocking Horse Poo’ you could say.
The Callanish Stones are located on the Isle of Lewis and were laid down long before Stonehenge. It is a beautiful place to visit and all the more special when there is no one else there to get in your shot.
Thanks to my cousin Scott for taking the time out to show me the delights of the Uig coastline. Along the way we stopped to photograph many beautiful spots however the falls at Breanish really grabbed my attention.
One evening the whole family went out to visit my fathers grave in Ness – it is by the sea and this is the view he has – miss you Dad but glad you have a great view.
North Rona from Sula Sgeir
My family carry on the tradition of the Guga Hunt each year on the rocky island of Sula Sgeir. As I left the island at sixteen I never went on the hunt – this year though I went out with the fishing boat to pick up the lads and bring them home.
Looking out from this crack in the rocks on Sula Sgeir I was able to make out the other lonely outpost in the Atlantic that is North Rona.
Not all the Gannets were ‘Dressed’ on Sula Sgeir due to having to leave early because of the weather. I spent a day with my nephew Tam and the rest of the Guga Hunters preparing the last of the Gugas
A good month for a holiday and a good month for photography.
We arrived at the Bushcraft Uk Bushmoot (Merthyr Mawr in South Wales) on Sunday evening. I am here for the next week and a half working with the Mootley Crew on what is what I call – My Busmans Holiday.
Sunday night was a busy one with all the set up of the family campsite – 3 hammocks, one tipi for kit, one tent for daughter and the main tarp for the kitchen/fire area.
Needless to say we relaxed when it got dark and had an early night (Not before spotting all the Ooglie eyes on the trees).
Alison got her customary coffee in her hammock and we all got out customary pancakes – fair trade I think.
It was good to catch up with everyone as they started to arrive on the Monday. I did get a bit of relaxation time and spent it snoozing under the main tarp – woke up to some lovely shadows dancing above me.
Alison headed off on Monday evening but thankfully she will be back later in the week.
It is all busy now setting the Moot up so I will finish here and catch up with you all later.
Over the last year or so I have found that my Bushcrafting has been taking a bit of a backseat to my other Adventure Training responsibilities so it was great to get back to some Bushcraft with fellow instructors from London Area Sea Cadets at one of our regular Multi Activity Staff Training (MAST) weekends.
It was a bit of CPD weekend for some and a bit of a new adventure for others. We took our time setting up camp on the Friday in the Mereworth Woods training area we had been given access to as the students were not due to join us until the Saturday morning – a kind of calm before the storm you could say.
The weather was on the whole kind to us with no major showers but the tarps were up just in case. Graham got his cuppa in bed that morning (being an officer and all that) and then modeled his Buffalo sleeping bag for us by the fire – I have no idea why the thing has a full face zip – weird 🙂
Along to help out and do some CPD were Dave, Alan, Charlie and Graham. The instructors from the Adventure Training team looking to learn the basics of Bushcraft were Ben, Lee, Sam and Gary. We like to run these Bushcraft courses from time to time to expand out Expedition Leaders skill set so that they can pass the knowledge onto their cadets.
Time for Tea
Before they were allowed to have a cuppa on the Saturday morning the students had to learn about lighting a fire. Off they went to learn about gathering dead standing wood, processing and grading it before learning to use firesteels – needless to say the tea and coffee was soon brewing.
Saw and Knife use
After their brew it was time to learn how to use saws and knives safely. Once the wood was gathered they learnt about safe knife cuts and battoning. I like teaching in this way as there is no need to get axes out (and we did not have time to cover them anyway). The students produced some strong tent pegs and looked at the techniques for making feather sticks for fire lighting.
Camp Set Up
One of the things I wanted the students to do over the weekend was to set up their own camp. They learnt some of the basic Bushcraft knots with Charlie and how to throw a line through the trees. Soon they had their parachute up and firewood collected. Once that was all done they spent time with Dave and Graham learning how to put hammocks and tarps up (no ground dwelling on this weekend).
A popular activity at cadet camps is Atlatl dart throwing so Dave and Alan spent a couple of hours with the students getting them to carve their own Atlatl throwers. All the skills that they had learnt in the morning with the saws and knives were used here with some finer knife cutting technique thrown in to get the points done.
As this was CPD time for the experienced instructors Dave went off earlier on the Saturday and experimented with Spruce roots as cordage. After digging up a little he split them down and removed the bark (with the forked stick) before using it to bind his demonstration Atlatl dart for his class. He also used Sweet Chestnut bark as a flight for his dart – worked perfectly well.
We had a nearby glade that was soon set up as arrange and the darts were soon pinging away. I have used Atlatls for years and shown hundreds of people how to use them – they never fail to intrigue people and offer hours of fun either in their construction or use.
While Dave and Graham ran the range I went back with Charlie and Alan to help gather the material for ponassing some fish. Dinner was to be Trout, Chicken and Vegetable Kebabs. As well as ponassing we wrapped and bound one Trout in Sweet Chestnut leaves (these were the biggest we could find) and its inner bark. The fish was then cooked over the open fire when the coals were nice and ready.
Alan ran our little galley and had the students helping him out on all the stages. It was not long before everything was cooked and even less time until everything was eaten.
We retired to the students parachute for the evening to watch the fireworks display – Sweet Chestnut wood sparks fantastically. Luckily we did not get one of the many thunderstorms we could hear nearby pass over us, so we remained dry while we watched the fireworks.
After a good nights sleep it was time for the breakfast feast. My wife Alison had made me up a pancake mix and Alan soon had the skillet working hard cooking pancakes (with a few rolls baking away on the side in the Dutch Oven). As well as pancakes we had the students cooking fresh sausage rolls over the fire (another great cadet pastime.
Straight after breakfast – out came my bow drill kit. This was not a full on bowdrill workshop but a taster to show how ‘assisted bowdrill‘ works. When we do this activity with cadets we always do it with the assistance of an instructor (or as a group of four or five) due to a lack of time usually. We used a couple of different methods and got good embers every time.
Grass Rope Making
In the Sea Cadets we work with ropes a lot (seamanship and all that) so I showed the guys how to make rope using grass. This is a fast rope making technique and we can create enough (with the right material) to make enough rope to do a seamanship class if needed (or just make earrings).
To finish Dave showed the students how to make some char cloth in a tin – we did not have time to finish it all off but they got the principles.
It was soon time to pack everything up and head home. Normally it is just the instructors that do most of this work so it was great to see all the students getting stuck in to put everything away in the correct manner so that it can be deployed quickly the next time we run a course.
It was great to be back out doing Bushcraft again and sharing knowledge on the subject. I hope some of the guys are with us in a few years helping to deliver this course as having a good understanding of Bushcraft really enhances their skill set for teaching cadets. I hope to be back running another course at MAST next year.
This August I went to the Wilderness Gathering to help out my friend Fraser Christian of Coastal Survival with the running of his stand. It was a busy stand however from time to time I ventured out around the show and spotted some real gems.
Starting at the end of the Wilderness Gathering I got tipped off that JP from Woodlife Trails was going to get ambushed by the Coyote Kids – Needless to say the tip off was spot on 🙂
Just off to the main area of the Wilderness Gathering is the pond. In here the canoeists have fun, we soak our willow for our fishtraps and I like to sit here watching nature go by. This year my friend Jason Sears decided to use it as a platform to light his tinder bundles – more of this in the last video in this post.
The Coastal Survival stand was busier than any time I can remember. The crowds gathered outside the stand when Fraser was demonstrating food prep and his hot smoker were fantastic.
Obviously Danny and myself were very professional and serious at all times:-)
I shot quite a bit of video this year and made a video of some of the activities we at Coastal Survival got up too – including the ancient and near forgotten art of Basketeering!!!!
One thing I love to look out for at the Wilderness Gathering is all the art – I use the term art here to describe the beautiful work that is always on display.
Below are the stunningly sculpted Kuksas from Jon Mac, the intricately carved spoons by Giles Newman and the finely twisted bottle opener by Dave Budd.
The bottle opener I spotted being made by Dave Budd as I strolled by. Dave was making one as part of a one2one training session and it did not take him long to craft it.
The bottle opener now lives in France with a friend of mine.
Still on the lookout for art I was taken by these three scenes. The first was a basket of beautifully coloured mushrooms on the Bushcraft Magazines stand. The second was spotting this Roman Centurions profile in the flames of our fire (it is something I do looking for fire faces). The last one was all the colours in the flint arrow heads I spotted on the Bushcraft Journal stand.
Further on on my strolls I came across loads of other sites where learning was going on. This was in the form of demonstrations, one2one’s or class work. I could only spend only a short time away from the stand but my time strolling always threw up little gems of learning.
A particular favourite subject of mine is building Log Rocket Stoves and my friend Des Cattys shares this passion. I spotted him one day starting a demonstration and decided to hang around to see how the class went (always looking for new ways of building these stoves)
In the evenings the music got better and better each night. There was a wide variety of artists and a particular favourite of mine was Vojta. Bushcrafters are not normally known for their dancing abilities but the front of the Bushcraft Magazine stand was buzzing each night with revellers.
After listening to a couple of Vojta’s songs I decided to record his last one of the night and I am glad I went with that gut feeling – a great session.
If you are patient while out and about at the Wilderness Gathering you can usually get a treat or two. The wild food tasting at the Bushcraft Magazine stand kept me hanging around for ages, Fraser’s great smoked sea foods were as usual highly sought after and I got to observe Roli Jones in action baking large loaves in his oven.
In amongst all this learning and art you will come across the odd and the unexpected. The Scout instructors were the ‘Bog Squad’ and worked hard to keep our loos in clean and working order – I take my hat of to you guys. As they walked by in formation I had to get this shot.
My friend Danny got a soaking while canoeing one day and decided to show off his fine ‘manly’ form to us all – I will leave it to you to judge this 🙂
The final unexpected moment relates back to my first video of JP being ambushed – I captured the moment he was turfed into the pond by the Coyote Kids and is one of my favourite pictures of the whole event.
My final video was put together to try and capture the essence of the Wilderness Gathering.
Last August I had a fantastic 5 days helping my friend Fraser Christian of Coastal Survival at the 2017 Wilderness Gathering. I did a heck of a lot of video this year so here is a short film of some of our antics 🙂
I still have another video to put together of the Wilderness Gathering as a whole so will be back with some more soon.
A ‘Brilliant Moot’ is how I would summarise this year’s Bushcraft UK Bushmoot. It was action packed from start to finish for me as I juggled my time between looking after my kids, running workshops and doing a lot of filming.
I will let the pictures and video do most of the talking so will keep the text to a minimum.
The first few days for us ‘Mods’ (forum moderators) were all about setting up the Bushmoot so that everything was in place for everyone arriving later in the week. We did not rush things as it was a holiday for us as well but over a few days the Bushmoot was soon set up.
There are some great places to camp at the Bushmoot which makes for stunning photography. The Mods’ corner is great to photograph on a sunny morning.
I have used the same camping spot for a number of years now and even though a year passes between each visit it feels as if I have never been away when I return.
There were a couple of early workshops this year – Open Fire Cooking with Neil and a 48hr Survival Course with Fraser from Coastal Survival. Both courses covered a lot of different areas so my photos are just a snapshot of their content – needless to say on both courses all the students eat well.
I put a short video together of this early part of the Bushmoot – including a scenario where my son pretends to chop my head off with an Ivy sword 🙂
In amongst all these workshops and general setting up my kids took themselves off exploring. I went with them on one jaunt and they took me to the ‘House of Doom’ (as they referred to it). I think film companies use the site and they had left this massive Gothic barn – quite beautiful but eerie at the same time (the axe was for posing with only by the way).
The Bushmoot is all about ‘Family’ as far as I am concerned – this family extends out to all my Bushmoot friends I see time and time again as I return each year.
Getting out of the woods one day with my friends Ian, Catherine and Liz (and assorted kids) we went Dune Diving. Merthyr Mawr sand dunes are the second highest dunes in Europe, apparently, and there is one dune in particular that the kids love.
Needless to say I joined the kids as they threw themselves down the dune – great fun even for a 50-year-old kid like me.
Core Day Workshops
I have no idea how many different workshops we ran this year and I only photographed or filmed a small number of them. We always start with a tool safety presentation (normally three different groups) before starting the main workshops.
Fire lighting in its many different forms is a staple of the Bushmoot and this year was no different – below are pictures from the bowdrill, the damp tinder and the flint and steel workshops.
Other workshops included Baking, Pottery, Rocket Stoves, the Starter Course, Basketry and Wood Spirits (to name just a few).
Watch the video to get a feel of the subjects we cover at the Bushmoot.
Outside of all these workshops and background work life goes on at the Bushmoot – food I can tell you forms a big part of that life 🙂
I am no great chef (tend to prefer building Campfire Cooking Constructions) but can when needed put something together – thankfully though there are plenty of people around like my wife Alison willing to put together a good spread for the kids and myself. Highlights of the Bushmoot are the Group Meal and the Hot Chocolate evening.
A favourite of mine has always been the archery range. We had another great competition this year. The winners from last year (Marek and Louey) were also presented their made-to-measure bows from Wayne Jones of Forest Knights.
This year we also had a catapult competition run by Steve (Mesquite) Harral and a workshop from David Colter on the Pellet Bow. Around the site we had various smaller ranges for axe, spade and pin throwing.
The Naughty Corner
No Bushmoot would be complete without the Naughty Corner and I try to get up to it for an hour or two each evening. This year my friend from the Sea Cadets Alan Lewis joined me at the Bushmoot for the first time and as he is a chef found himself drawn to the pizza oven.
Phil and Magda as usual kept us well fed each evening and Cap’n Badger made sure we were all not too naughty 😉
The Sand Pit
The evening socialising is not restricted to the Naughty Corner – usually for a couple of evenings lots of folk congregate under the big chute by the kids sandpit for a bit of a shindig.
We were supposed to have a band along one evening but for some reason they failed to show up – thankfully Marek and Gemma with some others started their own musical session that lasted well into the evening.
The Main Chute
This is where we meet each day, talk about what will be happening, answer questions and celebrate people.
The Bushmoot is run by Tony and Shelly Bristow (along with us volunteer Mods) and as often happens the Bushmoot coincided with Tony’s birthday. We also remembered our dear friend Drew who passed away so tragically at a young age in 2013. We do this by giving each year an engraved Swiss Army Knife to the person we feel has contributed most to the Moot.
Our good friends John Fenna and Steve Harral raise money each year for Cancer charities. Steve gets John to dress up in a different pink outfit each year and we make lots of donations in various ways. Also John has an award he gives out called the John Fenna Award (a Teddy Bear with lots of bushcraft kit) and this year it went to Cap’n Badger for dedicated service to running the Naughty Corner – or undetected crime as I hear 😉
All this talk of fun would not be complete without mention to what we organise for the kids (I mean the young ones here). We are not against technology and I am happy to let my kids watch a movie in the evening by the fire (gives me a breathing space to get on with camp chores).
The Bushmoot is a family friendly place and there are always workshops and games planned in for the kids. When there are no planned activities the whole estate is their playground and it’s great to see my kids roam free as I once did as a kid growing up in the Western Isles.
My last video on the Bushmoot looks at this ‘Bushmoot Life’.
When I popped up to the Naughty Corner one night I got chatting to our chefs Phil and Magda and found out that they had just got engaged – Phil had popped the question to Magda that day down on the beach and she had said yes.
The next day we got Phil and Magda to announce the engagement to everyone under the Main Chute – congratulations guys.
I am mostly to be found behind the camera lens so you do not see many pictures of my silver mop at the Bushmoot. Over the last 10 years I have really embraced photography and am always on the look out for something unusual to snap.
Fire Faces are a favourite of mine – spotted the BFG in one snap I took this year – but there is always something interesting to photograph at the Bushmoot.
A bit of Magic
This year at the Naughty Corner it was hard to miss the fact that the fire was making a good impression of a Rainbow. It turns out that Cap’n Badger had acquired some Mystical Fire and popped it into the fire. I took a few snaps of the flames and caught a lovely shot that I call ‘The Dancer’.
My kids loved the stuff and so we popped a couple of sachets on our campfire one evening while they watched a movie.
My wife Alison did not attend the whole of the Bushmoot (she pops back and forth from home over the fortnight) as she runs her own publishing company and this year was focused on finishing the first draft of her own book while we were at the Bushmoot.
Needless to say when Alison returned at the end of the Bushmoot she did so with a bottle of bubbly to celebrate the fact that she had finished her first draft – well done darling 🙂
That is it from me on the subject of the 2017 Bushmoot. Thank you to Tony, Shelly, all the Mods and all the other helpers who organised everything and helped make it such a magical two weeks.
There is no rocket science here or fancy skill to learn – just down right common sense.
When you have limited resources and the elements may be against you, then you may wish to consider the ‘Lolli Stick Fire’.
At the 2017 BCUK Bushmoot my good friend Fraser Christian from Coastal Survival was running a 48hr workshop on Coastal Survival. One of the classes was on lighting a fire on the beach in windy conditions with very limited resources – he called this the ‘Lolli Stick Fire’.
There is no rocket science here or fancy skill to learn – just down right common sense.
Fraser built using sand a little reflector wall in a horse shoe shape and within it he laid a platform of dry dead twigs. On the surface of this platform he laid three loose piles of twigs in a ‘U’ shape. On top of this ‘U’ shape he laid a further pile of loose twigs making a roof. This shape left a hole in the side to add a firelighter.
Rather than using a whole firelighter Fraser cut a firelighter into 8 pieces and stuck one of these small pieces onto a thin sharp twig (and here likened it to a ‘Lolli Stick’). He lit this in the shelter of his tarp and easily popped it into the middle of his twigs.
The flames spread through the twigs very easily as they were loosely laid and Fraser topped them off with further twigs to get the fire going really well. This process only took around a minute and he soon had a cup of water pushed up against the side of the fire.
The small reflector wall helped bounce the heat back onto the cup and so boil the water quite quickly.
You can see it in action in the short video below.
Fraser uses this technique on the coast as the reflector wall protects the fire from the fierce winds and because of the minimal resources needed to light and maintain it. I incorporated this technique into our Starter Course at the Bushmoot and everyone easily got there fires going with it with very limited resources.
The ‘Lolli Stick’ is safe to handle, requires only an eighth of a firelighter and is easy to light – as I said before ‘down right common sense’.
Over the last few years as I have made videos of the BCUK Bushmoot I have noticed I tend to video the workshops. Looking at the footage I shot this year I saw that I had captured so much more.
This is the 3rd and final video in my Bushmoot 17 trilogy focusing on ‘Bushmoot Life’ outside of the workshops and is dedicated to my wife Alison as she completed the first draft of her latest book during the Bushmoot – Congratulations Alison and look forward to reading it.
This year at the Wilderness Gathering my friend Des Cattys was showing his love of Log Rocket stoves to visitors. I decided to drop in on one of his sessions to watch how he constructs one. Like Des I am intrigued by these stoves and I am always looking to improve on their construction so watching someone else at work building one is a chance not to be missed.
If you want more detail on making one of these stoves have a look at my How To…. on building a Log Rocket stove. There are many variations on them and I have included some of them on my Bushcraftdays blog in my How To section.
Over the last few years one of the changes I have seen at the Wilderness Gathering is the quality of the music in the evenings – this year it was particularly great.
Roger Harrington of Bison Bushcraft and Dom Harvey (they run the Wilderness Gathering) had great music playing each night however I was particularly struck by one young musician – Vojta. He is a violinist at heart but somehow brings in many other instruments to his sessions.
Here is the last number he played at this years Wilderness Gathering.
This last week I have had a great time at the Wilderness Gathering here in the UK with Fraser Christian of Coastal Survival. I will write a more detailed report on the Gathering later but just wanted to share with you today a little video I grabbed just before I left.
I was approached by Ian Cresswell from Lonescout Bushcraft and told that he had heard that the Coyote Kids group had planned to ambush our friend JP and dunk him in the lake. So at the appointed time I was on hand to see the snatch and witness the dunking – enjoy the video 🙂
Every now and then a nice little weekend comes along – this trip to Crowborough Army camp with the Sea Cadets was one of them (not often you can say that with Crowborough). My friends Dave and Alan Lewis had already set up camp when I pulled up ( I had been at Woodcraft School that day so was running late).
We had a group of 5 senior cadets and a party of Junior cadets to train in campcraft over the weekend.
There was other training going on in the camp but we were separate from all that in the woods. Along with us was Gary Brodie-Barratt who is under training for his Basic Expedition Leadership award. Under supervision from Dave, Gary led a lot of the classes covering subjects such as kit, clothing and tents.
While they were cracking on with these classes Alan and myself were preparing for an influx of Junior cadets later that afternoon. I did though get out with Dave and Gary when they set off to do some navigation.
Some of the cadets were learning map reading for the first time and some were on our intermediate course which focuses on compass work a lot more.
Everyone though gets to play with the bothy bag – this little bag is a real life saver when you are in very exposed conditions. The cadets learn how to use one in a safe and controlled manner so that if they ever need to use one for real they will know how to deploy it correctly.
After lunch the Juniors arrived and the peace and tranquillity of our camp was shattered 🙂 These Juniors are so keen to learn that it is a pleasure to teach them.
We got them fire lighting first and soon had sausages, bread and marshmallows on the go.
Later on I took them on a nature walk (with a little bit of navigation thrown in) down through the old World War 1 training trenches running beside the camp.
We had cracking weather all weekend, did not have to share the woodland with any other groups (always a bonus) and for once had plenty of staff on hand – all in all it made for Happy Campers.
Below are my favourite shots of the weekend (so want one of these blow up seats).
Maybe next year I will get one of these weekends again 🙂
it was about 9 years ago or so that I was coming to the end of my Bushcraft Leadership course with John Rhyder at Woodcraft School. With my fellow students we had to prepare a couple of weekends training to visitors to prove we had mastered our bushcraft skills and also that we could pass these skills onto others – in May of this year I was back down at Woodcraft School but as a visitor this time with this years students.
I had received an invite and so popped down one morning in late May. All the classes had been set up and after a quick chat catching up with John it was time to get cracking. There was a class on bowdrill by Jack which was great but I was not. I failed to get an ember – excuse – I was not allowed to use my knife to make adjustments as I had not done that class yet 🙁
There were classes on campfire cranes (a particular favourite subject of mine loyal readers will know), safe carving techniques and different methods of using a firesteel.
Another favourite of mine is the Atlatl (I think I was one of the first students on John’s courses to teach this). We carved our own Atlatl and were soon pinging darts down the range.
Then it was time for a stroll in the woods looking at useful plants. John runs an Ethnobotony course (which I hope to attend one day) and Lucy our instructor had completed this very in depth course previously – her knowledge on plants and their uses really came through on the day.
Back at camp Lucy had prepared about 15 plant specimens and we had to identify each plant and note its use correctly – tough but we got 100% after a bit of conferring 🙂
Lucy had also collected up some cleavers which she crushed up and boiled to make a green tea – this was really enhanced with some Elder flower cordial she had made earlier.
My final class was with Lee looking at animal tracks and signs. Lee certainly knew his subject however I had to leave (to run one of my own courses) early and did not get out on the tracking walk he had planned.
It certainly was great to get down to see John and the students at Woodcraft School and I wish all the students well for the future – as to you John, thanks for the invite and as per usual a job well done I think.
A number of years ago my friend Rich59 from BCUK taught me how to get a fire going using damp tinder found on the forest floor. This short video goes through the process – I will post a detailed How To…. on this shortly.
Apart from making baskets and sheaths out of bark I have been experimenting these last few years with weaving bark into natural firelighters. I came across a post on Bushcraft UK by a member called Woodwalker on these firelighters from 2010 – he called them Woven Kindling.
I have since added spruce resin to mine and liken them more to Natural Frelighters as they burn long and fierce. This is the second part in my two part series on natural firelighters – the first being my post on Birch Bark Fire Fans.
Removing the bark
If you can find a semi rotten fallen birch log the bark tends to come of easily so just pull of the what you need. If you use semi rotted logs just take a little piece from as many different logs as you can as these logs are home to many different invertebrates.
If the logs are freshly fallen then I use my knife to score out the area I want to cut out (ensure it is a smooth an area as possible). If the bark does not peel off easily I batton it with a small log to loosen everything up before prising it off with my knife. I go into the specifics of removing the bark in more detail in my post on the Birch Bark Fire Fan. The main thing is to take your time when the bark does not come off easily.
Once I have my section of bark I will either peel it by hand into strips of about 1 cm in length or if I am feeling the need to be very accurate I will tap my knife into a log and use that as a tool to cut the bark into even strips.
Locking the strands together
1. To make one firelighter you need four strips of birch bark. I use strips about 30 cm’s in length and 1 or 2 cm’s width.
2. Fold each strip in half – the folded end is called the closed end and the end with the two tails is called the open end.
3. Slide one closed end between the open end of another strip so it sticks out by 2 or 3 cm’s. In the picture below in section 3 you can see a T shape is formed.
4. The closed end of a third folded strip is added to the upright part of the initial T shape to lock it off.
5. A fourth folded strip is added to the third strip to lock it off and the tails are threaded through the protruding loop of the first strip.
6.All the strips should now be locked off.
7. Pull everything in tight.
The Four Strand Crown
The firelighter is formed by weaving a Four Strand Crown knot. I have added the arrows to help you visualise what I am doing. Important – There will be two strips of bark at each open end. Only use the top strip of each open end when you begin the weave
8. To begin the knot fold one of the strips over. In section 8 I chose to fold the top strip on the left over first.
9. The strip is folded over to the opposite side.
10. To secure that strip in place I folded the strip at the top over this first strip to secure it in place.
11. This top strip (now at the bottom) was secured in place by folding the right hand strip over it.
12. To secure the fourth strip loosen the first strip slightly so that it forms a small loop by its fold – known as an eye.
13.Feed the tail of the fourth strip into this eye.
14. Pull the tail of the fourth strip in tight.
15. Repeat from step 8 to 14 again to form another layer of weave.
Flip the whole piece over and begin the weave on what were the bottom strips. Once you run out of bark to fold over tuck in the ends into a suitable slot or trim them off with your knife.
These little firelighters take only a minute or two to make but they can burn for far longer if you add some resin to them. I use spruce resin as it is plentiful here in the UK (again I discuss harvesting resin in my post on the Birch Bark Fire Fan in more detail).
I break of little blobs (it can get messy if the resin is runny) of resin and insert them into the little slots formed by the weave and that is basically it (use as much resin as you can).
When lit these firelighters burn easily for over 5 minutes so giving you time to build your fire without resorting to using fine tinder and just small twigs. I can easily hold the firelighter for the first minute before it becomes to fierce to hold.
Once it gets going and the resin is well lit then it I go no where near it with my fingers. I like to use them first thing in the morning when I do not want to faff about with collecting tinders and just get a brew on.
I prep mine in the evening while sitting around the fire and pack them away for when I need them. If you are looking for a viable alternative to modern firelighters then these are ideal – if you are always a purist and insist on foraging for your tinders every time you light a fire then maybe they are not for you.
For those that like a video intead of the step by step I put this short video together to explain the process.
Ever find yourself relying on using non-natural firelighters a lot due to their convenience? I do as I normally have a lot to organise before courses and using natural methods every time when I have a class can be time consuming when things are damp.
This is the first of two blogs on natural firelighters I like to use and how to make them. I like to prepare them well in advance of trips, pack them away in my bergen and use them instead of the likes of cotton wool and Vaseline (my usual non-natural method).
I came across a number of years ago a small section in Ray Mears book Essential Bushcraft on using a Birch bark fan. Ray recommended folding pieces of bark into a fan shape to stop the bark curling up quickly and becoming impossible to handle when it was lit.
I teach this method to my cadets however if I have time I like to add some melted spruce resin to these fans. This really extends the life of the fan giving me a better chance to get my fire going (great for these damp days) and because the resin soon hardens the fans they do not fall apart or deform so much when carried in a bag.
Removing the Bark
If you have a semi rotted birch log then the bark should come off easily however if it is a freshly felled log things may get a little more difficult for you. Here in the UK the birch bark can be quite thin and more difficult to remove than the thicker bark of birch trees you would find in more northern climes.
I mark out small squares with my knife and if the bark does not peel off easily I use a small batten to gently hammer the bark. This gentle hammering helps to loosen the inner bark from the sapwood.
Also having a wooden wedge helps to peel the bark of but mostly I tend to just use the curved part of my knife. Some folk say it is better to use the back of the tip of your knife but I find the curved part works well for me. The main thing is to take your time and remove the inner and outer bark from the sap wood.
Remove the Inner Bark
When I have removed a small square I gently remove the inner bark. Again do this job slowly removing the inner bark in small pieces. It is very easy when using thin bark to rip the outer bark.
Folding the Fan
To make your fan start folding your square as if you were making a very small fan – not much more you can say about that 🙂
Keep a hold on one end and with a strip of bark tie off the other end. They do not take long to make and are soon ready for the resin.
Here in the UK a handy and plentiful resource is Spruce resin. There are lots of conifer plantations where I live and a common tree in them is the Spruce. I keep an eye out for areas where the foresters have been using tractors to thin out the spruce as they tend to damage lower branches on trees they pass by.
To help heal itself the trees produce copious amounts of resin and this is full of oils that are flammable. By taking a little from different sites (I use a stick to scrape the resin) I can soon have plenty to melt and coat the Birch bark fans and leave plenty for the trees.
I just use a couple of tins (the inner tin has lots of little holes) to melt the resin by my campfire (I have documented this process in How To…. Spruce Pitch in a Tin Can) and dunk the tail of the fan into this hot liquid (good gloves or tongs are required here).
Once the tail is covered I pour some of the resin onto the area of the fan by the tail leaving the top of the fan clear of resin.
I find this combination works for me as the folds stop the bark from curling straight away and when the flame reaches the resin it burns for far longer.
I put a little video together on this to show you the process from start to finish.
The next post in this short series will be on making a woven Birch bark firelighter (again with Spruce resin).
OK – when I say we had a ‘Boys Own Weekend’ it was not through choice – sometimes it just happens that way and no girls had booked on the course.
Last October I spent an excellent weekend with my friend Dave Lewis teaching some Sea Cadets more advanced navigation techniques. They had all completed their basic campcraft skills and so the focus was on the use of the map and compass.
We were based in the Ashdown Forest here in the UK (Winnie the Pooh land) and really tested the lads out with their navigation. We had access to Pippingford Park training area so we were not continually bumping into people as you would do in the open access areas of the forest.
Pippingford Park has a wide variety of habitats from heathland, woodland and wetlands. The park also has many deer and wild horses roaming its interior making it a special place to visit.
We camped in the park on the Saturday evening and soon had a good fire going. Even though it rained a lot we got the marshmallows out and I started to spot loads of fire faces in the flames.
The colours were quite beautiful that weekend with all the fungi out and the leaves on the ground. Every time the sun came out so did my camera as that is when the colours came alive.
It is weekends like these where there are only a few of us that I really enjoy teaching. More focus can be given on the advanced skills and more time can be given to the instructors to relax 🙂
Over the last year I have dabbled with some of my pictures to see how they they fared in Black and White. I did look for pictures that gave me good shadows and high levels of contrast. I have no idea if that is the best way of going about it but I had fun along the way.
I hope you enjoy the pictures and wish you all a Happy New Year.
The London Area Sea Cadets annual Chosin Cup competition is one event I look forward to every year. Since 1999 I have been attending this event and this year may not have been the hardest in terms of the weather but it sure was hard due to the sheer number of different tests the cadets had to undertake.
Kick off is on the Friday night (late September) with the cadets marching in to their bivvie sites and working on their route cards. The staff though were up into the early hours prepping everything for the weekend.
First thing on Saturday morning they were briefed in their teams and then they were off. They needed to navigate a route inside and outside Pippingford Park military training area (located in the beautiful Ashdown Forest in the UK).
This year the Chosin Cup was run by our ‘soon to be‘ new Area Staff Officer Ben MacDonald. Ben is keen to really test the cadets and brought in some new activities for them to try out.
Cliff Lewis was in his element running the timed rowing race, there was plenty of archery to test the keen eyed ones, loads of fakeblood for the hardy at heart to stem and a fantastic climbingtower to let the cadets scurry up.
In between each stance the cadets had to keep navigating and pushing themselves to get to each one as quickly as possible.
The TyroleanTraverse and the Minibuspull tested the cadets teamwork and strength while the Seamanship stance worked on their core Sea Cadet skills
In between all this tooing and frowing of cadets the staff were busy running the stances (well some got a bit of R&R in between) and we had a visit on the Sunday from the Senior London Area officers (that kept us on our toes).
As for myself I was in the enviable position of being the roving safety officer/official photographer (my car ended up totally covered in dust from all the dirt tracks).
I put together a couple of short videos of the weekend and below is the first one with snippets of the Saturdays activities.
The Saturday night was not a quiet affair, as soon as it was dark, they were off again. This time on a night navigation excercise working from point to point using compasses and maps – they all made it and were soon safely back at camp.
All the activities on the Sunday morning were located within the confines of Pippingford Park (no hardship there as it is a beautiful site) and so after a good breakfast it was time to get started again.
The cadets were kept busy hauling themselves and all their kit up steep inclines, building rafts (a few did come apart) and stalking the enemy 🙂
My friend Charlie Brookes ran the Fire Race. This involves collecting different tinders and twigs then lighting them (using a firesteel) and getting the flames high enough to burn through a suspended horizontal rope – not as easy as you might think.
The event culminated in each team having to run the EnduranceRace. This was set up by our friend Kev Lomas from Southern Area Royal Marines Cadets and he knows how to set a tough race (he knows his stuff as he runs a company called Muscle Acre).
After a briefing they were off – each team took about 15 minutes to complete the race. It was a mixture of natural and man-made obstacles but the general theme was mud, ropes and water.
It was great to watch the cadets pushing themselves over the race and really come together as individual teams. There were staff located all around the site to encourage the cadets and ensure they were always safe. It was hard for them but the looks on their faces when they finished showed that they really enjoyed themselves.
For many years I have run with the teams around these races however this year it was time to let others have a go and as the official photographer I encouraged/poked/prodded some of the other staff to have a go so I could film them (you have to have some sort of R&R when you reach 50!!)
Below is the second of my videos showing the Sunday activities including the Endurance Race.
After a quick wash up it was time for the awards. There were 9 teams entered in the event this year and a close run thing it was too.
Merton Unit came 3rd, City of London came 2nd and the winners were Maldon Unit – BZ guys.
For many years the Chosin Cup has been overseen by our two Area Staff Officers Perry Symes and Graham Brockwell. They are standing down now to make way for some younger members of staff such as Ben MacDonald to take over and test themselves. This post then, I am dedicating, (like my videos) to these two stalwarts of the Adventure Training world in the Sea Cadets – Perry and Graham.
The weekend could not have been run without all the staff that volunteered to come along and run it so thank you to each and every one of you.
Thanks to all the cadets that came along and really tested themselves in what I regard as the toughest competition the Sea Cadets and the Royal Marines Cadets run.
Finally thanks must go to Ben MacDonald for putting it all together and making it a fine one for Perry and Graham to bow out on.
There has been a lot of skullduggery going on in the Aitchison-Jones household recently and it all came to a head in September 🙂
My wife Alison made sure that a certain weekend in September was kept well clear in my diary. I was told to pack for a family camp to celebrate my 50th birthday (location unknown) – hard to believe I have reached such a lofty age, I know 😉
So after packing we set off on a magical mystery tour that stopped off at the Arrivals lounge at Gatwick Airport. Passing through the gates was ‘Darling Barney’ all the way from Southern France to celebrate my birthday with us.
The pictures in this blog are a mixture from Tony Bristow, Ian Woodham, Alison Jones and myself.
The magical mystery tour continued to our friends Philippa and Phil’s farm just outside Dorking in Surrey. I was directed to a field to set up camp and we soon had our hammocks up and fire on. That night Phil came down to join us around the fire, there was a Harvest Moon and real ale and I was happy as Larry.
Phil asked Barney and myself if we could help him and a couple of friends complete a bridge at his girls school the next morning. I thought nothing of this as I normally help out Phil’s farm when I camp there and Barney is a carpenter/cabinetmaker anyway so his skills were needed.
It was a good morning mucking about in the mud building the bridge and we even stopped off for a couple of pints on the way back.
Unbeknownst to me Alison had set up a secret Facebook page and invited lots of my friends to the bash. While I was away folks started to arrive and needless to say that when I was in the car coming back down the field to the camp I was feeling slightly bemused.
There followed a lot of hugging and generally turning around with a startled look on my face as more and more folk popped out of the wood. These Saturday morning arrivals were friends from various parts of my life. Barney and Steve from Raleigh International, Liz, Rick, Stu and Gordon from Crisis, Alan and Dave from the Sea Cadets, Tony, Shelly, Robin, Jenna, David, Ian and Archie from Bushcraft UK
Alison had arranged for a delivery of groceries to be dropped off at the farm and a feast was quickly prepared. David Willis (Bushcraft With David Willis) used his bushcraft baking skills to make bread and our resident Sea Cadet chef Alan Lewis got on with prepping the skewers for the barbie.
I had gone from quite chilled out (must have been the two pints in the pub) to frantically running around getting the fires going, maintaining them and trying to chat with everyone who arrived. Those of you who know me personally know that multi tasking is not my strong point.
Added to all this confusion my friend Graham was spotted coming down the hill carrying a massive present all wrapped up. He told me I could not open it until later that evening around the fire.
After a few more beers (I kept opening one, putting it down, chatting, losing it, opening another……and so on, repeating the process) the food was ready and a lovely birthday cake produced.
Thanks to everyone who brought a present along – every one was appreciated and I am still working my way through all the single malts you brought along Rick, Gordon, Stu, Dave and Alan.
The wooden ’50’, Cliff, sits with my medals and other personal bits and bobs. It is a lovely piece of carving buddy.
Still not used the old military canteen, Barney, in case I damage it – it too will live on my bits and bobs shelf.
As for the Harrier knife carving, that log Graham that may take a while. (The massive present Graham brought me turned out to be a rare Harrier stamped knife together with a log from which to carve my own twelve-piece dinner service).
Thanks Phil and Philippa for the lovely honey you had just jarred 20 minutes before. As fresh as you can get I would imagine.
Thanks for all the Go Outdoor vouchers – I spent a happy couple of hours in there getting some extra kit.
Lastly to Alison for getting me that rather nice laptop I was really looking for (cheers for organising that Dave). It works a dream and I can process pictures so much quicker now.
The rest of the evening was spent chatting and from time to time Alison managed to extract some stories from folks about myself – many had the ending of me being hit in some way 🙂
A real highlight of the evening was listening to Robin and Jenna singing Happy Birthday to me in Welsh – I am not normally an emotional person but that moment will stay with me for the rest of my life.
A surprise evening arrival to the party were my good friends John and Caron of Woodcraft School (apologies I did not get a picture of you at the party). They just sort of appeared out of the dark while I was chatting away (just when I was sure there were no more surprises I was proved wrong).
Sunday morning soon came and those that had decided to stay for the night rose to a breakfast of bacon rolls and sausages before cracking on with some archery and Atlatls and posing for a Survivors’ picture.
Packing up was a sad business as everyone prepared to travel back home but I was still reeling slightly in a happy way from the whole surprise party.
I am still amazed at the distances people travelled to come to the party – France, west Wales, Leeds and more. Some came for the day and others stayed overnight. Thank you to all those who could not make the weekend but sent me there heartfelt wishes instead.
Thank you everyone who came and a special thanks to Alison and Philippa for all your organisational skulduggery 🙂
Catching up with friends, learning skills and getting some new kit – that is what the Wilderness Gathering is to me.
Coastal Survival has been attending The Gathering for quite a few years and this was a busy one for me as they went. I could tell that as most of my pictures this year were of what we were up to and not about what everybody else was up to. I was working alongside Fraser Christian, Danny Stocks and Chris Lundregan (we were also joined by Lorna Stocks).
Food and skills were the order of the day for us at this years show.
Over the weekend we kept a hot smoker going producing smoked mussels and mackerel. This kept a steady stream of visitors coming up to the stand. So much so that I did not get a great deal of time to wander around the rest of the show.
There is something quite beautiful about the simplicity of smoking food that is attractive to folks that makes them want to just come in and try some – it certainly is not for our good looks 😉
There was some time to get out though and catch up with folks. I missed Steve’s class on prepping rabbits but by the look on his face it went well.
Dave Budd was as usual working away but unusually he was having to be his own pump monkey on the forge – Where were you Emily? He needed you 🙂
Our neighbours at the show were Sonni and Angela from Beneath The Stars Leathercraft – the nicest set of neighbours than you could wish for.
Also spotted frequently was Jason bowdrilling away for the visitors. I sat beside him for one of his demonstrations and got some cracking pictures that I made into their own blog – Jason and the Ember Extender.
Regular readers will know I am a fan of Damp Log Rocket Stoves and Des was there this year firing them up. This particular Log Rocket was very damp but he persisted and soon had a hearty stove that produced plenty of brews.
As well as producing smoked food we spent time giving various classes such as this one on making a Bamboo Fishing Spear. This simple device does not take long to make and really packs a punch.
No Coastal Survival course would be complete without a bit of net making. Once again Fraser was up in the classrooms demonstrating his skills and getting the audience netting – I was meanwhile back tending shop – except for sneaking out to take some pics 🙂
The Masterclass this year was on constructing a Stick Fish Trap. This was planned to take 3 hours but it took most of the day for the students to complete (and for some part of the next day) but it was worth it, These traps are designed to work and do the job of catching your dinner.
These Stick Fish Traps are featured in Fraser’s new book Coast Hunter. This is the 2nd book in his coastal series and his copies sold out at the Wilderness Gathering. Look it up in Amazon if you are interested in all things coastal hunting.
I have been attending the Wilderness Gathering every year since 2005 so here’s to seeing some of you there in 2017 – An extra day I am told for next year 🙂
Fraser has a couple of books out now called Eat the Beach and Coast Hunter (he is currently working on his third book called Castaway on the Seashore). In the book Coast Hunter Fraser goes into detail on many coastal hunting techniques (including making this trap) and I encourage you to get a copy of these books if you are interested in the art of coastal survival.
Fraser uses this type of trap on the coast weighted down with stones in the inter-tidal zone to catch fish, crabs and lobsters. You can make the trap with many different woods found in the woods and hedgerows – just make sure it is pliable. As he was running a class for 8 people he brought in some commercial willow from Musgrove Willows.
Step 1 – Set Up
I will go through the steps as I saw them on the day but for more detail on this trap have a look inside the Coast hunter book. To form the shape Fraser used a paper plate and a tent peg to create a circle of willow. He tried to maintain an even distance (about two fingers width between each piece of willow) as he inserted the willow (thick ends) into the ground, They were pushed in about 10cm’s and the tent peg really helped as the ground was hard.
Once the willow was secured in the ground he tied of the top ensuring the willow sticks all came in at the same angle.
Step 2 – Weaving
The willow had been left overnight in a lake to ensure it was as pliable as possible however to make sure Fraser pulled each piece of willow he would weave with around his knee. This makes the weaving process so much easier and less tiring on your hands.
Starting with the thick end of a piece of willow he threaded it in and out between 4 or 5 uprights, Once that was secure he raised up the thinner in to carry on that in and out weave (raising the tip of the thinner end really makes the weaving easier).
In the picture in the bottom left you can clearly see that raised thin end being woven in and out of the uprights. He stopped the weave when he judged that part was too thin (the excess would be trimmed off later).
Once one piece was finished it was a case of repeating the process with a new piece of willow but from the next upright along. You can see in the picture in the bottom right below these staggered start points. Frase ensured that the ends stuck out proud so that they would not slip off the first upright while weaving. These would be trimmed down later.
Step 3 – Wrapping the Top with willow
Over time the trap started to develop (a height of 50 or 60 cm’s) and the string at the top was replaced with willow. I have put the steps for you below. The thick end was slid through the middle of the uprights then wrapped tightly around the uprights for about ten turns, through the uprights again, a couple more turns and back through once more to finish.
Step 4 – Closing the Gap
Finishing the top section can be quite difficult as you have less room to push the willow in and out of the uprights. Make the willow as pliable as possible and experiment with smaller thinner pieces and with starting with the thin end and threading through the thicker end.
Depending on what you are hoping to catch will decide how much of a gap to leave but ideally the gap should only be a couple of centimetres.
Step 5 – Locking off the Opening
When the top has been finished pull the trap out of the ground slowly and it is time to lock off the uprights around the opening.
Take one upright and bend it over in front of the one directly to its right but behind the 2nd one on the right. Repeat the process with the upright on the right and so on. Before long you will be left with just one upright standing vertically. Twist it back and forth and you can thread it easily through the laid uprights to its right.
Look closely at the pictures below and you will see how this works.
Step 6 – The Lid
The lid is about a third of the size of the main body of the trap however the opening is the same size. Use the paper plate, peg and string in the same fashion as before to set up the skeleton of the lid and weave in the exact same way as with the main body of the trap.
The difference though is that the top is not tied off but left open as this will become the opening that your catch will enter the trap through. When the hole in the top is about the size of your fist repeat the process of locking off at Step 5. You will also need to lock of the rim around the bigger opening when it is pulled out of the ground.
Step 7 – Trimming
When you trim off the ends of any piece of willow when making this type of trap try to leave about a cm or so sticking out so that the end of the willow does not slip inside the trap. The outside should be quite prickly but the inside should be smooth.
Step 8 – Attaching the Lid to the main body of the Trap
The lid should sit in the opening of the main body of the trap with the small opening in it well inside it. We split and soaked some willow (soaked in a cup of water) to make it really flexible and used that to tie the lid and the main body of the trap together.
They were tied together at one point only to ensure that the lid stayed attached but could be opened easily to remove any catch or to place any bait.
This project would take a confident weaver/basket maker a few hours to make however our students took most of the day (and one or two came back the next day to finish off) to complete theirs.
These traps are not just for show but tools for living as comfortably as you can on the coast. If you are interested in making these traps under a bit of guidance do contact Fraser at Coastal Survival.
As with any trap do check out whether it is legal to use it in the place you want to set it. In the UK check out the Environment Agency.
Jason is passionate about fire lighting and passing this skill onto others. I decided to sit back and watch his progress. I cannot remember the combination of wood types he was using but he did spend a minute gently warming everything up with some slow rotations of the spindle.
Once he felt everything was a dry as he could get it where the spindle meets the hearth board he really powered up to produce a hot ember. The day had been really wet so all this preparation was essential – all the while he was talking to the visitors explaining what he was doing.
To help himself along in getting his flame Jason had a piece of Cramp Ball fungus (Daldinia concentrica) on hand. He gently laid the piece of Cramp Ball beside the glowing ember to get it alight. This is a handy trick to remember in damp conditions as the ember created from the bowdrill can easily die out if you are not careful.
After a few seconds and a few puffs of breath the Cramp Ball was well alight then………………………
He added to some straw and huffed and puffed for a bit 🙂
Jason’s straw was also a bit damp so he spent a few moments just drying out the area around the cramp ball by gently blowing into it. It is at this stage that many embers disintegrate if you are not careful or they simply die out as they are too small to overcome the damp material.
After a minute the centre of the straw was well dried out and smouldering nicely. Normally, I notice a sudden increase in smoke at this stage and the colour changes slightly telling me I am about to get a flame………………………
Which he did – one impromptu looking candle in fact.
It is always a pleasure to watch Jason at the Wilderness Gathering teaching visitors fire lighting, so if you are thinking of coming along next year check him out.
Having a wonderful trip touring around Scotland these last two weeks with my family visiting family and friends. Currently we are staying with our friends Kate and John in Banchory (Aberdeenshire).
Kate mentioned that she had heard on Twitter that KT Tunstall (Scottish singer) had spotted some salmon leaping at the ‘Thundering Falls of Feugh‘ – so off we went to investigate. The falls were not thundering today and we spotted no salmon but this little fella popped up.
Talk about getting excited. The otter appeared directly below us in the falls, disappeared and then popped up again. He or she was soon scooting up the side of the falls diving in and out of pools and the main flow.
Before long the show was over as we were treated to a big slide down the side of the falls and all was as we had first found it when we arrived.
I only had a standard lens on my camera so the shots are not the best however I really enjoyed watching the otter playing and hunting.
Currently I am sitting in my mothers house in Port of Ness on the Isle of Lewis on holiday with my family. I have had a very busy summer however I have had a very fun summer as well. Over the coming weeks I will catch up on writing up all my trips however I have realised I have not posted in over a month so thought I might just summarise the last few trips.
I spent many a day over the summer wandering around my village of Bramley exploring all its nooks and crannies with my kids and their friends.
The Sea Cadets
The middle of July found me in East Sussex with the Sea Cadets and our annual Adventure Training competition. Even amongst all this navigational competitiveness we found time to spend listening to the rustle of the Poplar trees.
The first two weeks of August I spent with my family at the annual Bushcraft UKBushmoot in South Wales at Merthyr Mawr. We calculated that we had ran about 110 bushcraft classes in that two week period so the odd cup of freshly brewed coffee over a log rocket stove proved a must.
The Wilderness Gathering
Soon after the Moot I found myself helping my friend Fraser Christian from Coastal Survival at the Wilderness Gathering in Wiltshire. It was a weekend of wind, rain, sun and great fun as we helped our friend run all his classes.
The Isle of Lewis
Straight after the Wilderness Gathering I set off with my family up to the Isle of Lewis in Scotland. So far the weather has been great and my kids have been down swimming in the sea every morning. I am hoping for a few more great days before striking out to visit other friends on this trip across Scotland.
On my return I will be posting up more detailed reports on each of the trips but for now I will end with the hope that everyone else is having a busy and fun summer as well.
For the last three months I have been out on regular bimbles with my son Finlay to observe and learn about nature for his Naturalist badge at Cubs.
This is not an easy badge to obtain and takes three months to complete with a number of different standards to meet (some of the standards have different options to choose from).
The standards/options Finlay chose to do were:
Observe a natural area over a three month period a number of times to observe and record changes in nature
Learn to identify six trees and six wild flowers
Learn the Country Code
Build a Bug Hotel
Rather than just observe one natural area we spotted three good areas around the village to observe. We visited each area five times over three months to observe the changes occurring in nature.
Area 1 – Scrubland
This site was next to one of his playgrounds and initially seemed very promising (in the hope we would see a variety of different spring flowers) with all the Dandelion seed heads. They were still there on our second visit however the thick grass seemed to be inhibiting the growth of many of the spring flowers we were hoping to see.
Over the following visits we spotted a few White Campion flowers and some Green Alkanet however it was the grasses, Docks and Cleavers (Sticky Willy) that seemed to dominate in the end. Finlay seemed happy with that as I usually found loads of Cleaver strands stuck to my back when we got home 🙂
Area 2 – The Pond
I have been observing a particular pond in our village over the years and knew it would be good for Finlay to observe changes in nature.
The pond is full Reedmace (aka Cattail), Iris, and ringed by Marsh Marigolds and Mare’s Tail. Initially all the growth was very subdued however you can see in the second picture below (2nd visit) that there was far more shade as the plants had started to grow. Finlay is in the same spot in each picture to observe and act as a measure to the growth.
There is always something happening at the pond with wildlife. Usually we disturbed a duck or two but we did spot plenty of frogs and insects. One visit we found a dead pidgeon by the side of the pond and noticed that the Iris had started to produce its seed heads near the end of our visits.
Over the last 3 visits the Iris and the Reedmace soon came to dominate the pond and the outer ring of Marsh Marigolds generally died back.
Area 3 – The Stream
We have a culvert near our house and there is a good patch of Reedmace growing beside it. This spot I thought ideal to show Finlay how quickly this plant grows.
Initially it was the last years growth that dominated the stream with a lot of Hedge Garlic growing beside it. Over the subsequent visits the spring flowers all died off and the Reedmace shot up.
The growth you can see below happened over a two and a half month period.
On our last visit we spotted that the pollen spikes of the Reedmace had appeared. These are a great plant for any bushcrafter as the young spikes can be boiled and eaten, the roots are edible as well as the young plant shoots.
As this plant grows frequently beside (as seen by the pond) its lookalike poisonous neighbour – Iris, learn to 100% identify both plants before attempting to forage Reedmace.
Trees and Flowers
Over the last three months we studied our trees and wildflower as well as Finlay had to learn to identify six trees and six wildflowers.
For trees we focused on Oak, Hawthorn, Sycamore, Beech, Holly and Hazel. We started this on our first forage way back in in May when we went out on our first foraging hike together – Foraging with Finlay. He is pretty confident with most of the trees now however he still has to think about some of them. We remember them by shapes i.e. the star for Sycamore, ear lobes for Oak, spikes for Holly etc.
Some of the flowers we saw regularly included White Campion, Forget-me-nots and Herb Robert. I think he struggles with White Campion as that one disappeared early but then again not many people can easily identify it.
One he does remember easily is Green Alkannet (something to do with the blue flower and it having the word ‘Green’ in its title I think), Self Heal and Wild Strawberries. The white flowers of Strawberries he remembered well, in anticipation of the feast we had on the last visit.
It was not all learn, learn, learn as we had lots of fun along the way. Sometimes his sister Catherine joined us, there was lots of time spent in the parks , some beautiful insects were spotted and best of all we got muddy and spent quality time together.
The Countryside Code
We spent time talking about how we treat the countryside while out and about. When I was a young lad we all had to be able to recite the country code however that list has now fallen out of favour now. The main aims now are to ‘Respect, Protect and Enjoy’ the countryside. Our trips would touch on these aims and a good pamphlet on the current code can be found here at the Peak District website.
The Bug Hotel
The last standard for the badge was to build something for nature. We opted for a Bug hotel in the garden. Finlay, Catherine and one of his friends (another Finlay) spent a long time collecting and building their Bug hotel. I wrote a separate post on this titled – Building the Bug Hotel.
It has been great fun working on this project with Finlay. He really deserves his Naturalist badge now and I look forward to working on some of these more challenging badges with him in the future. One day he will no longer need me to help him but in the meantime I intend to get out and about with him as much as possible.
This is a post that came about because someone decided to chop down a tree. On a recent Sea Cadet training weekend we ended up with one instructor (Jess), one hammock and one tree – my friend Dave and myself had bagged the other trees for our hammocks :-). Not an ideal situation for Jess you could say.
We could not camp elsewhere and there was nothing in the way of available natural material to help us (we were on a military camp). Thankfully my friends Alan and Dave spotted some old poles (used for team building exercises) at the back of of a building. So Dave with Jess as his assistant in true Seacadet style, set out to apply their seamanship talents to our problem.
The Shear Lashing
They collected some assorted pieces of rope and a couple of cadets to help out. The poles were quite long and thick so they decided to tie the poles together about two thirds of the way along their length. The poles were tied together using a shear lashing (I will be using Grog’s Knots to help describe how they did this).
To start the shear lashing they attached the rope to one pole using a timber hitch and then wrapped the rope a number of times around both poles (this is known as wrapping). To make this easier the poles were raised slightly of the ground and the cadets helped to pass the masses of ropes around the poles.
Once the wrappings were completed the lashing was tightened by being frapped (nothing to do with Facebook). Frapping is the nautical term to describe the tightening of a rope or cable. Dave did this by completing a number of turns around the centre of the lashing and pulling it all in tight.
To finish the lashing off he secured it with a clove hitch to the pole without the timber hitch. There was plenty of rope left over as well to help with anchoring the shear legs down.
Though the poles were large they were surprisingly light so they were soon standing vertical. A spare piece of rigging line was looped over the pole with the timber hitch on it and with the spare rope from the shear lashing the legs were securely anchored by wrapping both ropes around base of a solid fence post.
Both ropes were then tied off around the shear lashing on the poles to make it all secure.
If you do not have a handy anchor like our fence post you can make your own. In the past I have had shear legs and tripods for hammocks anchored safely with three large wooden stakes.
If you cannot drive your shear legs into the ground I would advise you to tie them together near the bottom so that they do not inadvertently splay out. Dave used the last of the lashing rope (it was a rather long piece of old climbing rope) to do this.
Finally, to finish the set up the shear legs were tied securely to our single tree using a top line. This top line as well as securing the shear legs was to act as a line to hang Jess’s tarp off.
Testing & Set Up
I did a bit of testing after we had hung the hammock. I figured if it took my weight then Jess would have no problems. The top line went slightly slack when the system took my weight so that was re-tightened while I was in the hammock.
After that it was a simple case of rigging the tarp and Jess setting up home for the night.
This was a great solution from Dave to our missing tree problem and took less than an hour to complete. Jess slept the whole night soundly in her impromptu sleep system and I was chuffed that I managed to capture most of the stages in its construction.
If you are interested in making a slightly smaller and more mobile hammock stand yourself have a look at my two other posts on this subject,
Flammage – A phrase I heard for the first time at Woodcraft School when I was studying for my Bushcraft instructors certificate. I love the word as teaching firelighting has always been a passion of mine. Over the last couple of months I noticed I had gotten some excellent flammage shots.
I teach firelighting using many different methods however when you have lots of kids to teach and not much in the way of time then firesteels do the trick. They do make for some cracking pictures as demonstrated below by my friend Dave Lewis at a recent Sea Cadet camp. When teaching firesteels to very young children I liken them to fairy lights and you can see why below.
Now it is not all just one big firelighting fest as we do teach everyone to respect fire and how to be responsible in using it. Charlie got the kids in the picture below to use firesteels to strike onto char cloth and then blow it all into a flame using some dried grass. The resulting fire was kept contained in a fire tray and soon produced plenty of tea and chocolate cakes.
Some flammage fun here – we were given some offcuts of soft wood to burn by one of the other Sea Cadet instructors and I had brought along a pre-drilled fire face log rocket stove. With a criss cross fire lay and a well lit log rocket with the parachute in the background taking a picture seemed like a good idea.
I can spend hours watching a fire and when I think the flames are right out comes my camera and I start snapping away. I may take a hundred pictures in the hope that something will appear in the flames.
I call these pictures Fire Faces and in the two below I spotted two old men of the woods – see if you can spot them?
I have plenty of pictures of the cadets and my own kids sitting around a fire toasting marshmallows and this simple act is something I never tire off. This evening though really stands out in my memory with the Fire Faces adding that bit of extra light and ambience.
Taken in late spring down at my friend Fraser’s (Coastal Survival) during a rather stormy night was this picture of a bunch of hairy bushcrafters sitting snugly around the fire. Needless to say a dram or two helped pass the evening along nicely.
My favourite fire picture of the last couple of months though is this one. It is the fire the cadets were sitting around and I played around with the settings of my camera to try and capture the picture as best I could without a flash. I then just waited until a piece of wood split in the flames to capture all the sparks spiralling upwards.
No doubt there will be a few more Flammage pictures coming up over the summer as the Bushmoot and the Wilderness Gathering approach so I will leave you with these for now.
Over the last few months I have not done much in the way of bushcraft so there has been a slight lack of How To …. tutorials coming out. I plan to change that after the Moot (where I will be looking for inspiration) however I have been getting out on little trips recently to photograph nature.
This post is just to record some of the moments I have had over the last few months. Starting with an accidental shot of a very wet and bedraggled willow catkin. It was a damp day and I was trying to get a close up of a bug but after looking at the picture found the catkin to be of more interest.
Not long after ripping a muscle in my calf I hobbled out into my garden and applied the 20 metre rule. That is stand still, kneel down, sit down and lie down but continually look around you for approx 20 metres and you should see something worth shooting. When I eventually laid down I came up close and personal to these beautiful little Forget-me-nots
There was a re-wilding theme on the BCUK website a couple of months ago and I was stuck for ideas. Not long after the closing date I remembered this place outside our village. Proper re-wilding you could say 🙂
Back in April I went out for a walk with my kids in Morgaston woods and the bluebells were just coming through. I spotted this slightly thicker patch and after getting the kids to lie down (it was a job with all the pricklies) I got this rather nice shot. The angle of the shot made the bluebell patch seem much thicker than it actually was.
Another one from my garden during my hobbling period. I was particularly taken with the water droplets on the primroses.
My son has been undertaking some nature observations for his naturalists badge at cubs. we have been getting out and about as much as we can identifying trees and flowers such as these lovely Ramsons.
Spring would not be the same without a picture or two of some fluffy creatures. I thought this Greylag geese family looked particularly impressive at The Vyne National Trust property.
This was a ‘face off’. I spotted this deer in the shadow of the woods while out looking at the bluebells. I had to change the lens on my camera as she was a fair distance away. Normally they run off by the time I change lenses but this one kept me square in her sights the whole time.
We moved on from just identifying plants for Finlay’s naturalist badge to tasting them as well. We tried out a whole range of leaves including the likes of these Jack by the hedge plants.
Some of the best finds were literary stumbled on like this complete fox skeleton in the New Forest. It was found by some of my Junior Sea Cadets and we laid it all out onto this log to get a real good look at it. Many of these kids have never been out of the city before so this was quite a find for them.
I spotted this little butterfly sitting on a Herb Robert flower while visiting my friend Fraser from Coastal Survival a couple of weeks ago. Normally these little devils are away before you can get near them but this one just seemed to be soaking up the sun.
One of my favourite pictures was taken last weekend at The Vyne National Trust property. I heard a splash by the side of the lake and turned to see this Coot with a large Signal Crayfish in its beak.
The joy was not to last for the Coot though as another Coot came along and stole the crayfish away – such is nature sometimes I suppose.
So although I have not been out doing practical bushcrafting much I have been getting out and observing nature with a keen eye – so you could say it was the more nature based side of bushcrafting.
Here’s instalment number 10 in the ‘10 Reasons to Bushmoot‘ series. For those of you who have been following the series so far you will have gotten a feel of the wide range of activities on offer at the BCUK Bushmoot. Some of you have contacted me to say you will be attending for the first time this year, which is great, however if you still have not made up your mind then don’t just take my word for it.
I contacted a number of BCUK members and asked them to send me their favourite picture(s) of the Bushmoot (either one they took or from someone else) and to say why it was their favourite.
Charlie –This picture fully sums up the most important thing about the Bushmoot for me, which is the welcoming family. I first attended the Bushmoot in 2007 and that was only on a last-minute decision. Having been encouraged by the willingness of the BCUK members to welcome you to the forum and share knowledge, I decided to take the plunge and attend the Bushmoot. It was with a feeling of apprehension that I drove down the lane from Merthyr Mawr. This feeling soon disappeared on booking in, where I was made most welcome by Tony and Shelley. What followed was one of the most enjoyable few days I had spent in a long time, everyone you met made you welcome and they were willing to pass on skills. I can only hope I can continue to make newcomers to the Bushmoot feel as welcome as people made me feel.
Ian –When I was asked by George to look through my photos and send him something that says why I enjoy Bushmoot, my first thought was to my boy. He and all the children play continually, coming back to camp only for food. There is always something going on, and in an age of computer games, you never hear a child say “I’m board” when spending two weeks away from electricity.
Wayne (Forest Knights)-The photo shows the spirit of the Bushmoot. Sharing skills with other bushcrafters from the novice to seasoned instructors. All come with a willingness to share their skills and learn from each other. Teaching Bhutanese bow making in such a beautiful location is a privilege. It is a joy to be part of the team.
Cap’n Badger – He chose this picture but cannot remember who took it (I think it may have been Lindsey Dearnley) – I remember I was chilling in the sunshine with Darsha one afternoon when the life raft was stuck into the ‘Mammock’. Also I remember it being spun around with some of the girls inside..lol..and getting thirteen people in it! I’m surprised that little tree took the strain…
Susannah –The photo of a group of people toasting marshmallows reminds me of a couple of great things about the Bushmoot.
Firstly, woodland TV. There’s nothing like a fire for socialising, quiet contemplation and a general feeling of well-being. I do nearly all my cooking over a communal fire for the entire week, even my breakfast coffee, I love the smell of woodsmoke, sharing food around the fire and the flavour – everything seems to taste better!
Secondly, this picture was taken on a night-time photography course in 2009. What you can’t see, is that this group of people had kindly allowed around 15 paparazzi to surround them and their fire to practice taking night time shots – a great testament both to the range of courses you find yourself doing and to the friendliness and helpfulness of the people you meet.
George –I put this little collage together after asking Mors Kochanski to sign my Bushcraft book at the Bushmoot. He asked me what I wanted written in it and I said whatever he felt like. Apart from his signature line of ‘The more you know the less you carry’ he signed it to ‘a fellow instructor’. That one line has stuck with me ever since.
I worked at both Bushmoots Mors attended and as well as me attending his classes he visited some of mine too. We spent many an evening sitting around the fire shooting the breeze and drinking beer.
Tony – The Moot is a happy place, it’s also a relaxed place where we’re involved in sharing and creating, discovering and growing while making friendships and memories, where else would you get a group of guys excited about sewing machines, the loveliest pizza hand delivered and kids (actually it’s probably all of us) that go to bed tired, happy and looking forward to the next day of adventures.
Well that is it for me in this series. As Tony said the Moot is a ‘happy place’ so I am looking forward to once again attending this year with my family, seeing my ‘Bushmoot Family’ and having a few adventures along the way. Maybe I’ll see you there.
Last weekend found me in the New Forest here in Hampshire in the UK. I was with the Sea Cadets and we were running a full on weekend of Adventure Training activities and we were based at Ferny Crofts Campsite.
My picture of the week though goes to a more relaxed moment as some of the cadets were sitting around the campfire toasting some marshmallows under the watchful eye of these fire faces.
I will be writing a full report on the weekend sometime soon however I thought I would share just a little bit of what was a magical weekend with you.
My little lad Finlay is a member of the Bramley Cub pack and when he was invested recently we received a little book on all the badges they can work towards.
There are badges for hiking, navigation and nature observation (amongst many others) so we decided to get out last Sunday and start earning some.
Now this was not a usual bimble around the village but a proper hike. Finlay packed his rucksack with water, food, suncream, waterproofs, map, compass and a first aid kit. The manual stipulated that the hike needed to last for at least three hours and have a purpose.
Our hike was to be around Wasing Wood near Tadley in Hampshire and our purpose was to learn to navigate and to forage (and throw in lots of fun in the middle).
Very soon we spotted a clump of white flowers which turned out to be three-cornered leeks ( the leaves have three distinct corners) and some very fresh-looking beech leaves.
At this time of year the leaves of certain trees are quite edible, beech being one of them. Over the years Finlay has often foraged with me so I was not worried about him having any sort of reaction to anything he would be nibbling on. The walk was more about him learning the key features of certain plants for future safe identification. We left the leeks alone but had a munch on some of the really fresh beech leaves.
One tree that Finlay knew well was the oak, but to help him remember its leaf shape we likened its lobed leaf structure to that of his ear lobe. Also we investigated the very fresh-looking gall we found on one of the oaks. There was no hole in it so we concluded that the gall wasp had not hatched yet.
The next tree we came across was the hawthorn and Finlay’s first observation about it was that the leaves were much smaller than the oak leaves and had smaller and sharper lobes. As this is an edible leaf we were soon munching again.
I introduced Finlay to the Ordnance Survey map for our area and soon he was busy identifying different features on it and tracking our route. We looked at setting the map using features on the ground and using the compass. Also we discussed the scale of the map and features we would expect to find along our route.
We devised a route that was on public footpaths around Wasing Wood (and which had been well documented in a local guide book) however it soon became apparent that the footpaths we were using had been used little recently. The path was overgrown with hawthorn trees and it had also been cut in half by a local business as a testing area for diggers. Soon we were well off our intended route but by looking at the features around us we were able to keep track of where we were.
It was not all hard work as the hammock seat came out when we stopped for a snack (Finlay got it, not me). As well as trees we spent time identifying flowers.
There were plenty of bluebells, a few wild strawberry flowers but we did get down close to look at some Greater Stitchwort – a beautiful little white flower that has medicinally been used to help with the treatment of broken bones.
Strangely, when we were crossing a stile we came across a pair of boxer shorts lying on the ground. Not sure what to make of this, we hurried quickly along :-).
Now no trip out into the woods is complete without a little extra iron. There were plenty of new-growth nettles around and we picked a few ‘tops’ (the smallest leaves from the very top of the nettle), rolled them up to kill off the needles and munched away.
Finlay is happy to eat nettles now (he takes delight in doing this in front of other kids) though I am still working on him collecting them himself without gloves.
Nettles though have a habit of biting you if you do not keep an eye on them 🙂 Finlay was picking a leaf from a ‘Jack by the Hedge’ plant for a little nibble when one of them sneaky nettles popped up and bit him on his arm.
Now a number of years ago he would have let out a loud wail and run about looking for a dock leaf. Now he knows to simply tell me he has been stung and I will grab a couple of the bigger nettle leaves and squish them up to a pulp. It is the juice of the nettle/plantain/dock (to name just a few) leaf that negates the sting – not just rubbing a dry dock leaf on a sting, which I have seen countless people do.
Before we knew it we had been out for over three and a half hours and diner was calling (Alison had insisted we be back in time for tea as we were expecting visitors). Out came the compass and after another quick lesson we were off through the woods and back to the car.
Finlay had collected a few of the leaves from the trees we had studied but they soon wilted with the sun because they were so fresh. He collected holly, oak, hawthorn, birch, beech and sycamore leaves and spotted bluebells, stitchwort, leeks, wild strawberries, Jack-by-the-hedge and nettles.
The purpose of our hike was to study some trees, flowers and learn about the map and compass. I think you could say we managed that.
Recently I came across a video on You Tube from my friend David Willis who runs his own company called Bushcraft with David Willis. David teaches outdoor living skills, natural history and woodland crafts. I thoroughly enjoyed the video so decided to write this blog post, share the video and tell you a little about this excellent fellow bushcrafter.
Last year at the BCUK Bushmoot David ran a number of classes for us and the Backwoods Baker class proved to be a hit. I was photographing lots of classes that morning but kept on coming back to David’s class just to take in the smell of the baking and get the odd morsel or two.
A week later at the Wilderness Gathering I met David once again and he asked if I could take a few pics of him running a class on Backwoods Baking – needless to say I readily agreed, got some great pictures and some lovely bread.
Keep an eye out on David’s website for his free Family Friendly Guided Woodland Walks. They are becoming increasingly popular and David will guide you through the beauty of the Chiltern Hills.
I am hoping that I’ll see David back once again at the Bushmoot and the Wilderness Gathering but in the meantime here is the video on one of his Backwoods Baker courses to enjoy.
Last weekend I went for a walk in the woods with my lad Finlay and his friend William. I was planning a bit of a hike however I spotted a glade in our local woods where an area has been set aside for kids to build dens.
This post follows the steps I talked the lads through the principles of shelter building. This is not a full on How To…. guide to shelter building but more of an introduction to the principles of it all.
We had a wander around some of the shelters that had been left up by other groups and talked about the positive elements of each shelter. I find that this focuses the mind on what has worked well and how these elements can be incorporated into any other shelter.
We looked at how high a shelter needed to be, how many walls were really needed, how much thatch was needed and what was needed to keep them warm dependent on different weather conditions.
I told the lads that we only had time to build a small shelter (Sunday Dinner was calling) so they found some rope and wood and I showed them how to tie everything together to form a spar. We had no tools at all so had to work with what we had.
After a chat they opted to go for a simple lean to shelter as this they felt would take the least amount off time.
I told them they would need lots of sticks to lean up against the spar (more than they thought) and that they needed to be roughly the same size. After a quick demonstration on how to snap wood using the base of two tree trunks that were close together they were soon hard at work.
We put a pole on the ground to roughly mark out where each pole should be driven in and soon they had the basic skeleton of the shelter formed.
One of the hardest things to get across to them was the need to always have a tidy working area. we had lots of dead wood lying about so I made them clear it all away from the shelter so we had a safe area to work in.
Once that was all done we had a good forage around for some spruce boughs. There were plenty lying around that had been cut down by the foresters for the kids to use (I wish all woods had an area like this).
After layering some of the spruce boughs onto the skeleton of the shelter I got the boys doing the penguin walk. This is the way I get the kids to gather up lots of leaves in a very short space of time. They would quickly make little piles of leaves and throw them over the spruce boughs.
Once the bottom half was all done they got some more spruce boughs for the top and covered that in leaves as well. Finally to keep the leaves in place they laid a load of small sticks over the leaves (to try and help stop the wind from blowing it all away).
Once they had finished the outside it was time to sort out the interior design. They spent a little while weaving back in all the loose (well some of them) spruce needles back into the thatch.
Once that was done they foraged for some more spruce and made themselves up a little bed to keep themselves off the cold earth.
We did not have permission to have a fire in the woods but that did not stop us from pretending – after all that is what we kids do 🙂
I got them to build themselves a heat reflecting wall in front of the shelter (about two paces from the shelter). They just pushed two sticks into the ground and stacked some logs up against them.
All that was left for them to do was construct their long log fire (one step away from the shelter) and relax.
This took us about one and a half hours to complete and managed to have fun along the way as well.
As I said this was more about the principles of shelter building (done really to help towards one of their Cubs badges) and not a full on How To…. to building a shelter. If we had more time we would have put about 3 times as much debris over the top, the bed would have been raised up with a much thicker mattress of spruce and the sides would have been closed in.
At the beginning of February this year I drove down the A303 towards Dorset here in the UK in ever worsening weather conditions.
My good friend Fraser Christian of Coastal Survival had organised a meet up of some of the guys who help him out at various events throughout the year. By the time I got to his village the weather had deteriorated to storm conditions.
The pictures below show his parachute getting a right battering and even later on in the shelter of the parachute the airflow really helped shoot the flames of the fire up.
Before going to up to Fraser’s woodland location I met some of the the guys – Fraser, Steve, Si, Danny and Nick in the local pub to have a few beers (and to dry off from the drenching I got from walking from the car park to the pub).
Even though the weather conditions were still extremely poor when we got to Fraser’s woodland site we soon made ourselves comfortable. The food and mulled cider were soon on and I even managed to get a picture of the parachute looking like some sort of downed UFO.
We were joined later in the evening by Tom who is one of the other Coastal Survival instructors. He had cycled his way through the storm to get to us but seemed happy to be out there in the wild conditions (I think that it is a pre-requisite of any outdoors pursuit instructor to show they can be comfortable outdoors whatever the weather throws at them).
Due to the high winds the flames of the fire kept shooting up, so as usual I had my camera out grabbing some shots of fire faces and figures in the flames. If you look closely you will see a few faces. I can also see a deer and a water buffalo in the left hand picture below.
We spent the evening listening to the wind, catching up on the year gone by and planning trips for the coming months. Around about 10pm the wind dropped sufficiently I felt it safe enough to venture out and put my own hammock and tarp up.
I slept for a full ten hours that night and woke the next morning feeling calm and refreshed. The guys already had the kettle on the go so all I needed to do was fill my cup and wait for my breakfast from Fraser.
One thing about working with Fraser is that you never go hungry and I will never get in the way of an expert chef wanting to cook me breakfast :-).
As part of our bed and board for the night we agreed to get out and collect some of the brash wood Fraser had stored around his woodland to replace the wood we had used the night before.
We said goodbye to Tom at this stage before stringing up the brash wood to take back to camp.
Once the chores were done I set off on my own to see what flora and fauna were about that morning. Little Tinker always makes for a great shot but I soon found an excellent badger print in the damp ground.
I spooked a deer on my travels through the wood but managed to get one decent long range shot of her as she ran across a field.
Even though this was early February there was a dash of colour about with the plants.
The teasel was looking particularly majestic with new seeds sprouting within the previous years seed head. I spotted a number of primroses for the first time this year at Fraser’s and the lesser celandines were sunning themselves nicely.
Finally I spotted an elder tree covered in some lovely looking jelly fungus.
It was soon time to head home again however the drive back was a delight due to feeling refreshed and the sun was out 🙂
Thanks to Fraser for hosting us for the weekend and the rest of the guys for being such good company.
For a while now I have been making Log Rocket Stoves in different ways.
The ones I make in the workshop are easy as all you require is a drill however if you make one in the woods things become more complex. A common theme about these woodland Log Rocket Stoves is that you need something like string or wire to hold everything together.
I thought about this a lot recently and came up with this adaptation of the Log Rocket Stove using green wood dovetail joints.
I will post a full step by step tutorial in the near future in my How To…. section.
Ok, I know it is supposed to be one picture every week however I thought I needed to zoom in on this one a bit more so I added another for detail.
Many of you know I love to tinker with log rocket stoves so today found me once again working on another design.
I came across an old Swedish design for a log rocket called the Schwedenfeuer (Swedish fire) however like many other log rockets all the parts were held together with wire. As these stoves are supposed to date back to at least the middle ages they had to be held together with something else then.
I came up with the idea to use green wood wedges carved into the stove in a dovetail fashion. They worked perfectly, I got my coffee made and also a video (to follow). I will also be popping a How To…. blog post soon to show how to make one.
My last trip out for 2015 was a particularly nice one as we were celebrating the 6th birthday of a little bushcraft boy called David. He loves the outdoors and his Grandfather Keith Coleman had organised to celebrate the event out in the woods at Danemead Scout camp.
Keith was also out with a few of his cadets to practice some navigation skills and I was going to practice some bushcraft skills with my friends Dave, Alan and Jess.
David’s Mum Maria was who is a good friend of mine was also at the campsite so it was great to catch up with her as we had not met up for a long time.
Keith soon had the candles lit with David and we were soon tucking into a slice of Birthday cake.
Later on the boys Dad Jim turned up with David’s little brother James. Jim has been a good friend of mine for many years so It was good to catch up on goings on again with him. While we were chatting the boys asked if they could light their own fire.
We spent a little while collecting some dry birch bark and small twigs and then got the Firesteels out. I also gave them some cotton wool and Vaseline to help get the fire going as everything was very damp.
It was great to watch the two lads sparking away and then slowly building up their fire until it was well lit. Needless to say when it was time for them to go home they were very reluctant to leave their well nurtured fire.
While the lads were busy making their fire Dave was busily building a spit to cook a joint of beef on. He stripped a green hazel sapling and put a split through the the middle of it with one end squared off. Then he carved a couple of flat skewers to go through the beef and the split. This method keeps the joint fixed to the hazel rod as it is turned over the fire.
Once that was done he made two uprights to sit the hazel rod in over the fire. One of the uprights had a square notch carved into it for the squared end of the hazel rod to rest in. This ensured that as we turned the it it always remained fixed in the position we had set it.
Dave’s father Alan is an excellent chef and he had been busily working away making up a whole range of different veggie kebabs. After a couple of hours turning the spit dinner was ready.
As we try to be civilised 😉 at these events the cheese board was produced by Keith and a relaxing evening was had around the fire.
After a very restful sleep in my hammock I was awoke by our chef Alan busily working away around the fire preparing some pancakes for breakfast.
Alan was using my griddle for this job (if you do not own one I would highly recommend that you invest in one) and it was hanging off my Dovetail Crane. This crane is made out of one piece of wood, is easy to make and offers you a wide range of cooking heights.
While Keith was off doing some navigation work with his cadets I spent my morning constructing a Damp Wood Log Rocket Stove. These are easy to make and great to get a fire going in damp conditions.
I must thank Jess for helping me at this stage to take a lot of my photographs as my hands were full with constructing the stove. Thankfully Jess is an excellent photographer so I did not need to worry if the right shot was being taken or not leaving me free to concentrate on the stove.
All that was left after this was to have a brew and pack up for the trip home. This was an excellent trip to round my year off amongst friends, eating well and celebrating the birthday of a budding bushcrafter.
No series on the Bushcraft UKBushmoot would be complete without a mention of ‘Ye Naughty Corner’ – I will refer to it as the NC in the rest of the post.
The NC is many things to many different people who visit the Bushmoot. There is usually a fire on the go at most hours however it is in the evening that the NC really livens up. Some folk love the place and spend a lot of time there, some folk just pop in for a visit every now and then, however some folk steer well clear as it can be busy and noisy. I personally like to visit the NC of an evening and catch up on the days goings on around the fire while enjoying a medicinal tot or two.
Cap’n Badger and Mad Dave (our resident Pirates) normally manage the NC though Dave had to miss the Bushmoot last year. The NC has been around for a number of years now and it has grown in size as each year has passed. Some say that is a good thing and others do not – you will need to decide for yourself.
It has always been a noisy place in the evenings (folks are warned about it if they camp near it for the first time) and as a regular over the years I am quite comfortable there however as the feel of the NC has changed from a small to a big community some folk have drifted off elsewhere on an evening.
The central point of the NC is the fire and it makes for a great woodland TV. On some of the busy nights you will be lucky to get anywhere near it however if there is a decent stock of wood it is soon lit up well. I have snapped many a fire face picture in these flames over the years.
One thing you are guaranteed is the option to try out a number of different tipples while sitting around the fire. There is usually a bottle or two of Kraken rum, meade, port or whisky making the rounds to try. The nost memorable one for me was when I was passed a bottle of Dave Budd’s Chilli rum – never to be forgotten.
I think one of the reasons the NC has become so popular is that there is usually some music and food on the go.
Initially folks would cook there own food and come along to the NC for a drink and a chat. Nowadays our resident Phil is on the go all night cooking and serving a wide range of excellent food (we do run a group kitty to cover the cost of the food).
A couple of years ago Tim Neobard ran a class at the NC to build a cob oven for baking pizzas. The pizzas proved to be very popular with the residents of the NC so everyone was looking forward to having some pizzas the following year.
When we returned last year we found that someone had decided to destroy the pizza oven. Un-dettered Neil re-built the oven this year out of brick instead of cob so hopefully it will be there this year.
I like to pop by the NC during the day to see what is going on. Sometimes it is pretty quiet as folk are off at all the classes however sometimes you will find a class or two going on at the NC.
A few years ago one of our regular NC residents Drew Dunn passed away in a road traffic accident. This tragic loss really affected many of us at the Bushmoot as we had grown to love Drew. When I met Drew for the first time his first words to me were ‘Where can I find the Naughty Corner’.
Drew loved the NC so much that Cap’n Badger and Mad Dave organised the planting of a tree and plaque in his honour. The tree and plaque sit just behind the NC where Drew used to camp.
The NC does throw up some strange sights I must admit. A few years ago this massive net was strung up and it was termed the Mammock. I have no idea how many folk got crammed into the Mammock in the end but it proved a star attraction.
Each year a fancy dress themed night is run. Last year it was Monty Python, the year before it was a Victorian explorer theme and I think next year it is a horror theme.
Not something I have gotten round to doing but there are plenty of folks who do and they do put in a lot of effort to look the part.
As the evening gets on though the reason why the NC corner gets its name starts to become apparent. It might be that you find yourself getting covered in lots of little clothes pegs if you are not careful, you may inadvertently get passed the bottle of chilli vodka, or you may get buckarooed if you fall asleep.
There is an skill to buckarooing as you need a steady hand. The poor soul who is asleep has tins of beer (empty) and pegs (and other adornments) heaped on top of them before a picture is taken. Everything is then taken away so that when the poor soul wakens up they are none the wiser until they see the picture the next day.
I appreciate that the NC is not for everyone as it can be a busy and noisy place however I personally like to spend an hour or two of an evening there.
To me it is one of the highlights of my year where I can relax and have a bit of fun while catching up with my friends.
There are plenty of campfires to visit at the Bushmoot where you can sit and relax and chat. The NC is just another one of them however it is one of the livelier ones.
It has been a dream of mine to one day head on over to Scandinavia to practise my bushcraft skills, particularly in winter time. Time and money have so far not allowed me to do that however that has not stopped me from researching some of the ways of lighting fires in the snow or wet conditions.
I have seen many a Scandinavian (sometimes referred to as Swedish candles though Finnish seems the origin for many ) candle at bushcraft meets that have been carved using a chainsaw however I do not own one. My research showed me that chainsaws were not required and there are many other ways to light a fire in the snow or on wet ground other than candles, such as long fires and log rocket stoves.
This post brings together all my posts over the last couple of years on this subject. You will find if you click on the title for each section it will bring you to a more detailed post on making these fires.
Trawling You Tube one evening a few years ago I came across a video titled the Log Stove from Hobbexp. Up until that point I thought to make a candle you needed a chainsaw. Hobbexp showed me that you could make a perfectly good candle with just an axe and some kindling.
The one below was made using a birch log and stuffed with birch bark and spruce resin (and a couple of battoned-down pieces of green wood to keep the splits open). These candles can burn for a good couple of hours, are easy to set up and look great. I have no idea how many I have made over the last couple of years.
I got another idea for a candle during my research once again from You Tube from ‘bushcraftmyway’ titled the swedish torch/stove – my way. I liked this stove as it could be made from damp wood (ideal in the UK).
I tied some seasoned but damp birch rods together with bramble strips and willow bark then stuffed in tiny pieces of kindling and Vaseline-coated cotton wool. I decided to use the Vaseline and cotton wool so as to give the damp wood a chance to dry out.
After a bit of tender care the wood started to dry out and I easily managed to boil a kettle on it. This is an excellent way to get a fire going in damp/wet conditions. The remains of the candle after it had burnt down provided me with a great bed of coals to maintain a more traditional firelay.
All this research led me to compare this rod style of candle with the more commonly split log candle. I set up the rod candle this time with very dry rods and split a spruce log with my axe into a number of wedges.
I tied them all together with natural cordage and lit them. The rod candle took off very quickly as it was stuffed full of very fine kindling however the split log candle lasted longer as it took longer to fully get going.
Again I managed to easily boil a kettle on both of these candles. Both are simple and easy to make.
The idea for this one came from Perkele’s Blog Spot but the post is no longer available. I think this candle is regarded by many as the original Finnish Candle.
A log is split from top to bottom and pieces from the central core are then axed out to act as kindling. Lots of cuts are made into the inner faces of the candle to give the flames plenty of surface area to catch onto.
It took me a while to get the flames self sustaining, but once they’d caught the candle worked well. It looked precarious as the two pieces of wood are not lashed together but they stayed upright till the end.
The Rakovalkea Gap fire hails from Finland and I was taught a similar method by my friend Kevin Warrington (Laplanders Natural Lore) back in 2007. I came across the term Rakovalkea around about 2011 after seeing pictures of this fire being made by the Finnish army on the internet.
This is a scaled-down model I made however it was fully functioning and its set up makes for a long burn time with easy adjustment to increase or decrease the flames. This has proved to be the most most popular post on my website.
I decided to include this little fella as it is excellent for cooking in damp or wintry conditions. It is a wood gas stove and burns very efficiently. I was shown this by my friend Ian Woodham back in 2011 at the Bushcraft UKBushmoot. As soon as I got home I made one up and documented it on my blog.
I made this out of a metal paint pot, a large dog food tin, a Fray Bentos pie tin and a few bits and bobs. It works a treat and needs very little fuel to keep it going. I like to use dry seasoned pine/spruce/larch cones in the stove as they burn for a good length of time.
Now the kids love this stove – whenever you are having a barbie in the garden or if you are having a family camp make one or two of these up.
The principles are the same as the log rocket in the previous post except for the faces you can carve on them. Once they get going the faces really light up. They are perfectly able to be used as a normal log rocket stove for cooking or boiling but have the extra appeal factor of the face. A good video on this is the one made by Marcels Workshop.
Log rocket stoves have always appealed to me as a woodsman however when I am lightweight camping I do not fancy carrying around pre-prepared ones. Recently on Facebook Paul Hasling posted an article on making one with an axe and saw with no need for a drill. One of the other Scout leaders posted up a step by step guide on making one but it is in Spanish – the pictures though speak for themselves – Rocket Stove de Madeira.
I was instantly attracted to this method however when I was next out in the woods I could only find damp logs. To overcome this I split the log into six pieces and added Raappanan tuli cuts inside the chimney. This damp log rocket stove took slightly longer to get going as the internal wood slowly dried but once it was going there was no stopping it.
The final post in this series came to me one evening when I was wondering how I could operate in the woods without an axe. I figured it was worth a go trying to make a log rocket stove with just my Mora knife (I did use a small saw to trim the log).
With some battoning and the use of a wooden wedge I was able to split a decent sized log and fashion a perfectly good log rocket stove.
This exercise really is an excellent way to test out your knife skills.
Is the story over on candles, long fires and log rocket stoves? – I think not. I will continue to research this intriguing subject and if you have any ideas that I could try out to add to this library of knowledge I would really appreciate hearing from you.
It has been 8 or 9 years now since I started making my own bows and Atlatls. In that time I have enjoyed making a number of different types and have brought them all together in this post. I am no expert in making them however I do like to carve them.
If you want to know how to make any of these tools just click on the title for each section to see a detailed How To…. guide on making them. This post will concentrate on my thoughts on them through my own personal use and that of my students.
I have probably made at least a dozen of these quick bows and taught many students to make them since 2009. They take no more than a couple of hours to make and are quite powerful for green wood bows. I normally use two hazel or ash rods taped together to make them.
I learnt how to make them after watching a You Tube video by Mark Emery (Sussex Woodsman) who is an expert woodsman.
The bow themselves are very light in terms of poundage (20 to 30lbs in draw weight) but on a high arc I can generally get them to shoot an arrow 60 to 70 metres. I usually shoot them on short ranges of less than 20 metres in the woods.
These have proven a massive hit at the Bushcraft UK Bushmoot and there has been a class run on them since 2009 with folks of all ages making them. I particularly like to see a family making one and then coming down to the range of an evening to shoot. I still have ones I made all these years ago and they still shoot well.
This was the very first bow I made back in 2008 on a Bushcraft Instructors course with John Rhyder of Woodcraft School.
As a group we felled an ash tree , split it into staves and carved our own bows. We did this over two weekends with a month in-between so allowing the stave to season before the tillering process. The ash flatbow has to be made wider than it is deeper due to its deep rings however if it is tillered well it will still shoot fast.
This bow comes in at about 40 lbs in draw weight and has a tendency to ‘twat’ the inside of your forearm so a arm guard is a must.
I give this bow mostly to adults to shoot because of its draw weight but with a good eye and a steady hand she can be very accurate. I started shooting right handed as that is how I was taught to shoot a rifle many years ago however my friend Charlie Brookes suggested one day to try left handed shooting and suddenly I started to hit the target. I am left handed and left eye dominant but the muscle memory from using a rifle made it difficult to shoot left handed at first – however with a lot of practice that has gone, so I am now happy to shoot with either hand.
I made this bow about four years ago at the BCUK Bushmoot and was taught by Wayne Jones (Forest Knights). It is similar to the ash bow in that it is wider than it is deeper however it is made out of two pieces of bamboo (the HowTo…. goes into detail of why two pieces are used).
Traditionally the two pieces would be joined together with wooden pins and strapping but on the day all we had was tape. In the courses Wayne runs nowadays he uses the pins and strapping.
It is quite a light bow (about 30lbs in draw weight) however it has the advantage of being made very quickly (a couple of hours in competent hands).
Another unusual feature of this bow is that the hard outer shell of the bamboo becomes the Belly (the part of the bow facing you when shooting) of the bow and the softer inner part of the bamboo becomes the Back of the bow (the part of the bow facing away from you when shooting). I am told that this is to do with the characteristics of the bamboo – because it is a grass technically and not wood.
This is my favourite bow. I carved it while doing a Primitive Technology course at Woodcraft School.
I carved the bow based on the dimensions of the ones found in the peat bogs at Holmegaard in Denmark. The bow has the lower parts of its limbs shaped wider than they are deeper much like the ash flatbow. The upper parts of the limbs are more ‘D’ shaped so making them stiffer but thinner than the lower parts of the limbs.
This unusual shape works well with ash as it is not a particularly strong wood for thin bows. The wide lower limbs give it strength while the thinner and stiffer ‘D’sectioned tips allow the limbs to shoot forward at a very fast speed so making it an excellent hunting bow where you get fairly close to your prey..
I also decided to make the nocks out of rawhide and spruce pitch rather than carving them in. I did this as some Holmegaard bows have been found with no nocks carved into them. Whether they had bone nocks attached or rawhide as I experimented with will probably never be known but they work well.
This bow is a favourite amongst the children I teach as they can draw it easy. Personally I just love the shape of the bow and it shoots well for me,
I have written a number of posts on these little devices. When asked about them by children I teach I liken them to these modern ball throwing devices dog walkers use nowadays. So if you imagine replacing the ball with a spear (technically called a dart) you will get the idea.
The set is made up of two parts – the Atlatl (the throwing device) as shown below and a dart (seen above). My post on the Atlatl goes into detail on the history of them and the different designs you can find.
The ones below are very simple ones. The left hand one has been carved from a hazel rod and the one on the right is from a piece of yew with an antler tip attached by sinew and spruce pitch.
I have tried to make a number of different Atlatls over the years and a favourite of mine is called the Lovelock Cave Atlatl (named after where it was found in the USA). I came across some drawings of this Atlatl on the web and set about making one.
It was thought to have had a bone or wooden point at the end to attach the dart to it but I experimented with just cordage. This seems to work quite well however there is no archaeological records that this adaptation was ever used.
I set myself a challenge a while back to produce a split stick Atlatl from just one piece of willow and limited myself to just my primitive tools.
I scraped and carved the wood with my flint knife and used the bark as cordage. It turned out to be quite a nifty little Atlatl in the end.
Atlatl with a Rest
I carved this Atlatl after reading about hunters in Arctic environments using this type of Atlatl. The rest allows the hunter to wear a glove while waiting to shoot the dart. The dart has a piece of cordage wrapped tightly around it that is pushed up against the rest so fixing the dart in place. With a quick flick the dart is away with no ill effect on its flight.
Thats it for me on bows and Atlatls (unless I make some more).
I had a great time constructing contraptions to use around the campfire last year so I thought a little summary post of them all was in order.
This post is not about how to construct any of the contraptions themselves (I will link to the relevant How To…. guides in the title of each section) but my personal thoughts on them. I appreciate campfire gadgets are not for everyone and they may be seen as overcomplicating the cooking process however I think they are great fun to construct.
Before building any gadgets it is good to have an actual fire. I was asked to help build a raised firepit/platform by my friend John Rhyder at the Woodcraft School training area. John wanted a dedicated area for his students to cook on without having to bend down too far.
After a lot of discussion with his wife Caron we opted for a rectangular shape instead of a square. Caron argued that this shape would give a large cooking area but would be safer than a square, as the students would not have to stretch too far to reach the centre of the fire. This is an ideal construction for a fixed-base camp, with plenty of room to cook on and to sit around.
Collapsible pot hanger
I love little wooden contraptions and these little collapsible pot hangers are ideal for the lightweight bushcrafter. They can be made in numerous different ways and are easily broken down to be stored inside your pot. One of the things I like about carving them is that the joints that hold them together are generally simple but need to be carved perfectly if the hanger is to take the weight of a heavy pot without coming apart.
Wagon/Waugan Stick or Burtonsville Rig
This is an excellent cooking rig for bushcraft beginners to learn. It has lots of different parts and requires a number of different knife cuts to produce the hanger and the hanging poles. I have heard this set up called many different names from Waygon or Waugan stick and Mors Kochanski refers to it as the Burtonsville rig. All have their own stories behind them however the common factor is that it a very easy set up and offers the bushcrafter a wide range of cooking heights.
Double French Windlass
The Double French Windlass is a cracking cooking rig. I was taught this by my friend Steve ‘Mesquite’ Harral at the Bushcraft UK Bushmoot a number of years ago. I used it at this year’s Bushmoot for two weeks and it allowed me to cook with a number of different pots at one time with the ability to have them all at different cooking heights.
Single Fork Aures
I read in the Wildwood Wisdom book of a type of adjustable crane first documented in the early 20th century by a Scout Master called Victor Aures. It is a simple device however it is reliant on finding a branch with a specific set of smaller branches off it. I discovered a variation on this crane a number of years ago that required only a single fork in the branch and after a bit of splitting and splicing you have a fully adjustable crane.
Gibbet Aures Crane
This variation on the Aures crane does not rely on splitting the wood but on the addition of other branches so that the whole thing hangs off your upright pole. It is easy to find all the parts which is probably why this is the version of the Aures cranes I most commonly see around campfires.
Classic Aures Crane
It took me a long time to find the perfect combination of branches for this crane. I have never seen another one before except as a drawing in the Wildwood Wisdom book. The hardest part in making this crane is the thinning of the wood to create the loop. It is a real challenge but also very enjoyable and satisfying.
The Three Cranes
I really liked making these cranes and would encourage you to have a go at them if you like campfire projects. They are not for you if you prefer simply to put your pot on the fire, but if you like to tinker and experiment, have a go.
The idea for this crane came to me a number of years ago while making myself up a little squirrel cooker from some metal rods. I have cut the notch out using an auger in the past but nowadays I usually just use my knife. I like this set up as you can make your crane out of one pole. With the addition of an adjustable pot hanger you have a crane that offers a variety of cooking heights without having a bulky tripod set up over the fire.
Simple Dovetail Crane
I got this idea from a Scouting page a number of years ago and it is very simple and quick to carve. The part that takes the longest to make is the adjustable pot hanger. I would recommend if you decide to experiment with making these cranes that you start with this one as the dovetail notch is so easy to cut out.
Lap Joint Crane
Still sticking with the single pole theme, another easy crane to make is the Lap Joint crane. The main thing to remember is to make sure that the squared-off fit of the upright is consistent along its length with the notch in the arm.
Once weight (eg a pot) is applied to the end of the arm, everything locks together. I have found that this crane works best when the pot is hung off the very end of the arm. I have experimented with hanging the pot half way along the arm only to find it all collapses. It is a good and simple crane to make – treat this one with respect, though.
This is my all-time favourite crane. With the dovetail notch the arm cannot fall off (unlike the Lap Joint crane) and it offers a wide variety of heights to choose from when cooking. The arm is very easy to adjust even when there is a pot attached and will take you no more than an hour to carve.
Heavy Duty Crane
This one came about from an article I spotted in a Scouting site. Some of the Dutch Oven pans I use can be extremley heavy. This crane offers a number of different cooking heights and will not bend in the slightest even with the heaviest pot attached (well, the heaviest I have, at least). I have though learned to take the pot off the arm with this one before changing the height.
Mortice and Tenon Crane
This was the last crane I worked on last year and the one that is the most technical, I think. The joint is a simple tenon and mortice set up however there were a lot of angles to consider (I have discussed then in the article) and the string I used to adjust the height could possibly do with further development. It is however an excellent crane with lots of movement up and down and side to side.
In time I hope to add a few more How To’s…. to this series as I find the whole subject of campfire contraptions so fascinating.
When the weather is inclement and the ground is really wet then the option of making a rocket stove needs to be considered.
This How To…. sets out the steps I took on a wet and windy December morning to make a Damp Wood Log Rocket Stove with only the tools I normally carry in my rucksack.
I have dabbled with making different types of Finnish Candles for cooking on and they are excellent for when the ground is wet. Over the years I have also experimented with making Log Rocket stoves but restricted my activities to the workshop as I used drills to make them.
I recently stumbled on an idea on Facebook from the 1st Facebook Scout Group by Paul Hasling. This is the first time I have seen a log rocket stove done without the use of drills so I was instantly taken with the idea. Another Scout instructor José Xavier put Paul’s pictures together into a quick helpcard called the Rocket Stove de Madeira. This is a very simple design where a log is split four ways, a chimney and firetray are carved out and it is all put back together again with string. I will certainly be showing my Sea Cadets how to make one.
First though I wanted to make one when out in the woods with only what was to hand. It being December, there was nothing that was bone dry so I found a dead Birch and cut a section off. It was still damp to the touch, however it had been dead for over a year so it was slightly seasoned.
For the job I had my knife, saw, axe and a pen. Using another round of wood I split the log in half by battoning it with my axe (keep the blade of the axe at 90 degrees to your body when you do this).
After splitting the log in half I split each half into three even sections. With very dry wood you only need halve the halves again to make four sections however my wood was damp so I wanted to produce as much surface area as possible which is why I opted for six sections.
Using a stick and a pen I marked a line on each section about a quarter of the way from the bottom and also numbered each section. These marks were put in so that I could cut in stop cuts so to make it easy for me to cut out the chimney section.
My friend Keith Coleman suggested using tape as a depth gauge for this and it worked a treat, with each stop cut ending up the same depth.
Creating the Chimney
Using the tape as a gauge again I marked a line at the top of each split section and then, using my knife, battoned off the excess wood.
The stop cuts help as the split does not travel all the way to the bottom and so creates a lintel that the fire will sit in.
After a little bit of whittling with my knife each segment had the wood removed so that the chimney would be formed when it was all put back together.
It is important to keep all the shavings and little chunks of wood from this process as it can be used as kindling for the stove.
The Raappanan Tuli style
Now the secret of making damp wood burn is to produce as much surface area as possible for the flame to catch. I learnt this from researching and making the Finnish Raappanan Tuli candle.
On the inside of each segment cut as many burrs as you can so that the flame from your kindling has something to catch onto. I tried out different types of cuts here and some were easier to carve than others – your wood will soon tell you what works well.
Next up is the opening for the firebox. I selected two segments that fit together (having them numbered really helped here) and marked out with a pen two rectangular areas just above the sill I’d created. I made sure the marking went all the way round to the other side of each segment.
I then used a saw to cut into the wood in the shaded area. Do as many cuts as you can as this makes it easier to remove this waste wood.
I then used my saw at an angle to cut out the wood and finished the job off with my knife.
When finished the idea is that you want an access point big enough to put your kindling into the firebox area at the bottom of the chimney.
I found some old sisal string tied to a tree and used that to tie everything back together. It was pretty damp anyway and I hoped that would last longer than the copious amounts of paracord I tend to carry around with me. I think some thin wire would be the ideal thing to use though.
From the top you can see how wide the chimney was. I have no idea what would be the optimal size to have so you may need to experiment for yourself.
As the wood was so damp I decided to go for the sure-fire method of lighting the stove up – good old cotton wool and Vaseline. This worked well however I needed to use 4 Vaseline-coated cotton wool balls to maintain the fire.
I have used shredded birch bark mixed with spruce resin on a number of occasions to light Finnish candles before but I didn’t have the time to collect the resin this time.
Once the fire had started I added tinder/kindling down through the chimney and in through the firebox. The main thing at this stage is to not over-fill the firebox but allow the airflow to be maintained. It means about 10 minutes of work but the damp wood inside the chimney area will dry out and the overall heat of the fire will increase.
Maintaining the Fire
I placed three pebbles on the top of the stove for the kettle to sit on securely.
The gap created by the pebbles also allows you to drop tinder/kindling down the chimney. I like to use strips of birch bark here as it is so pliable and flammable.
If the wind is low or changes direction you may need to get down low and blow directly into the firebox to keep the fire going. Once the wood has dried out a bit you will not need to do this so much.
I gave the stove about 10 minutes before putting the kettle on and then in about 15 minutes the kettle was boiling. Not as fast as modern stoves but for what is in effect a wet log not bad.
I have to thank Jess Edwards for a number of these pictures at the end. Jess is a great photographer and keen bushcrafter so it was great to concentrate for once on the tinkering and leave the photography aspect in someone else’s capable hands.
Once the coffee was made I was able to have a good look at what was happening with the stove. As I looked closely I could see the moisture in the wood boiling off. If you look in the bottom picture you can see the water boiling away on the surface.
The stove kept going for another hour before I had to put it out as we were leaving.
Overall I was very impressed with this Log Rocket stove with the Raappanan Tuli twist and I will be using it again on my courses.
Thanks again to the Scouts for documenting this stove – I hope you like my little twist on it?